Be Thankful For What You Are Tiven

Hope you all had a Happy Fourth of July! I sure did, and the resulting recovery from said celebrations have made me once again kinda slow on the draw here in blog-land and I am once again begging you to bear with me as I catch up.

After a few blogs about the genius of soul that is Don Covay, I promised I would hip you to a series of tribute CDs to soul heroes which came out in the early-to-mid-’90’s on the Razor and Tie label and Shanachie Records.

The tributes, one each for Curtis Mayfield, Don Covay and Arthur Alexander, were spearheaded by a rocker with Memphis ties, Jon Tiven. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, Tiven has bumped around the music scene since the late ’60’s but started gaining fame in the mid-’70’s as part of the Big Star axis. Although never in that groundbreaking pop band, Tiven played in other bands with various permutations of the members and also counted among his bandmates and collaborators unsung Memphis pop geniuses (and who I will devote future blogs to) Van Duren and Tommy Hoehn.

Knocking sround Memphis and later New York City, Tiven slowly gained notice as an excellent producer and songwriter, as well as artist in his own right. Many bands and artists have covered Tiven and his bass-playing wife Sally’s songs over the years and current albums by Ellis Hooks, Shemekia Copeland and Frank Black bear evidence of his song-writing ability and producing skills.

Back in the early ’90’s, Tiven started releasing these great tribute CDs featuring a coterie of great performers like Covay, Ron Wood, members of rock band Living Colour, Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Iggy Pop and on and on. Though they are hard to find today, I suggest searching them out if you can. The performances are all top notch and many feature Tiven and his band playing back-up.

I am set to interview Tiven soon and I will flesh out the story behind these tributes in a few weeks but I hope you endeavor to search them out and listen to them. They are possibly the best tribute CDs ever in a world that has way too many of them. The artists taking part are showcased well and the artists being honored couldn’t possibly have their songs lavished with more respect.

Also keep your eyes peeled for any CD with Tiven’s name in the credits. He is a throwback to the days when people cared about music and everything he produces has an authentic feel to it. Whenever I stumble across his name on a CD, I pick it up because I know I am going to like it. He has a great ear for new artists, is a great songwriter and has a cool little recording career going himself. An album on Rounder from the late ’90’s is especially good. Search that out as well.

The Music Nerd knows…..

A-Covay III – Look, Up In The Sky – It’s Superdude!

When last we left mild-mannered funk hero Don Covay, he was languishing in obscurity, off the charts himself but scoring some hits by writing songs for others. He had put out two great but poorly received blues-rock albums under the moniker Jefferson Lemon Blues Band and was scrambling to find a way to get a bonafide hit.

Being a great songwriter, everyone but Covay knew it was just a matter of time before he got back on the charts. Luckily, it happened with his first album back in a soul groove, which he had largely abandoned when he put out his blues rock experiments.

The album came out in 1973 and was called Superdude. It did wonders for Covay’s career. Not only did it give him three singles which hit high on the charts, but it gave him exposure again, exposure he so desperately needed to continue his side career writing hits for others. As so often happens in the pop and rock world, before artists will give you a chance to write and produce for them you have to score some hits for yourself first. Ask Barry Gibb from the BeeGees about all of his increased songwriting and production activity once those disco hits started coming. His career went into overdrive.

Not only did the album do well back then and revive Covay’s career, but it has stood the test of time by being a source of many samples for modern-day hits and being on so many beatheads’ “must-get” lists. Although it is out of print currently, it should only be a matter of time before this Holy Grail of funk is once again available to the general public. Why it hasn’t been reissued yet is a mystery to me.
While Covay has recorded sporadically since (his last album came out in 2002) Superdude has always been known as the nadir of Covay’s career as an artist in his own right. He continued to score a hit every so often with songs he wrote which other artists would cover but the hits from Superdude were to be the last ones he scored under his own name. The album cemented his place as a soul titan for evermore, though, and wherever people enjoy soul music you can bet someone’s stepping up to the mic and getting ready to sing one of Covay’s hits.


The next blog will feature a series of tributes to soul stars in which Covay figured heavily as both participant and honoree….

Who do you tribute?

The Music Nerd knows……

A-Covay II – Give Me Some Lemon

When last we left our hero, soulster Don Covay, we had talked a little about his background as a soul artist and had made the point he was way more successful as a songwriter of hits for others than as an artist in his own right. After his circa 1968 gimmick of uniting a bunch of soul stars under the group name The Soul Clan failed to get anything going for his career, Covay scrambled to find something to bring himself back into the public eye.

This frustration with his lack of chart success led Covay to come up with a gimmick to take advantage of the blues revival and all of the white artists (mostly British) making hard core blues albums.

Together with white blues artist John Hammond and Shirelles’ guitarist Joe Richardson (but credited under Covay’s name) he made an album co-credited to the mostly imaginary Jefferson Lemon Blues Band (a play on the name of the famous bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson and possibly the inspiration for Cheech and Chong’s legendary blues pastiche) called House of Blue Lights which was basically himself and a few friends like Hammond trying to make a deep blues CD. Surprisingly, it is an excellent effort that stands up solidly next to anything Cream, Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac or any other blues-based band was doing at the time.

Sounding like it was recorded at a roadhouse somewhere, Covay’s old-timey hollered vocals add an authetic feel to a record that is basically a concept album Covay was using to draw attention to his flagging career. Standards like Key To The Highway are pitted against Covay originals such as Homemade Love and House of Blue Lights (not the Freddie Slack chestnut) and draw attention to the fact Covay could adapt his writing style and his vocals to just about any genre of music. The key to a great song is how well it can be adapted and over the years Covay’s songs have been proven to be as good as anyone’s.

A song from the album, “Black Woman”, managed to climb up to number 43 on the R&B charts and this small feat encouraged Covay and company to record another Jefferson Lemon Blues Band CD, this time for Janus Records. Called Different Strokes for Different Folks, the album stalled and became another roadblock in Covay’s road to getting a hit.

Eventually Covay did strike pop gold, two years later on his hard-to-find-but-well-worth-looking-for album Superdude, scoring about four medium-sized hits. These two blues albums are the Holy Grail, though, and indie label Sepiatone has recently re-released the first one in an excellent package. Needless to say, the album blew my mind. Haven’t located the second one yet, but I am sure one label will put it out someday. Find it on vinyl if you can.

In the next blog we will talk about the groove-head masterpiece Superdude as well as a great tribute CD to Mr. Covay.

Has Somebody Been Enjoying Your Home?

The Music Nerd Knows…..

A-Covay Part 1

Old school soul has always been one of The Nerd’s favorite kinds of music. The love began as I started to analyze music as a player. As a burgeoning drummer, I immediately fell in love with drummers who could make a groove swing and make people dance. The pyrotechnics of many rock drummers like Keith Moon and John Bonham, although impressive, didn’t really move me much – I was more into Al Jackson, Bernard Purdie and whoever played on the soul records I heard as a child. Their grooves were enormous and sucked me into the soul world.

I remember one of my favorite songs being Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin. When I finally got the album it was on many years down the line, I saw in the writer’s credits it was written by Don Covay. Although I searched pretty hard for info and albums (this was prte-Internet after all) I could never find anything by him in the “C” section and just assumed he was a studio songwriter and had never put out any albums on his own.

Boy, was I wrong! He has actually put out quite a few discs, all of them decent and some of them great.

Now, when people think of Don Covay….I started that sentence just to see what it would sound like because you and I both know people don’t ever think of Don Covay. You know why? Because radio never plays his songs and labels really haven’t re-issued his output properly despite his being the writer of over 15 gold records.

To be honest, Covay had always had more success as a songwriter than as an artist. His classic ’60’s song “See Saw” has always been his biggest hit and that came relatively early on in his singing and songwriting career. He never stopped trying to hit it big, though, releasing albums and singles with regularity right up until the ’80’s.

His songwriting, on the other hand, made big waves and continues to do so. Everyone from Aretha to Wilson Pickett to The Rolling Stones have covered his songs, making him a go-to guy when soul stars and rock bands were looking for something soulful to cover. You can still find plenty of albums with Covay songs on them, his songs being evergreens that could drive a star up the charts at any time. Though it’s been a while since a Covay song went high up the charts, his songs are so solid the potential is always there to see one of his songs in the top 10.

Still, he always wrote new songs and continued to perform and show up on albums every once in a while. Not many people know it, but Don Covay filled in for Mick Jagger on the Stones’ Dirty Work CD. You see, Mick and Keith Richards had been feuding over Mick’s then upcoming solo album She’s The Boss and neither one of them wanted to see the other in the studio. Covay (and also Bobby Womack) would sing the guide vocals on the Stones songs so Mick could go in to the studio at a later date and lay down his vocals. On certain parts of the CD, especially Harlem Shuffle, you can still hear Covay and Womack in the background, singing their brains out.

I have given you a little background info on Covay because everything I write about this week is going to involve him. I hope to tell you about two little known blues rock albums he put mout in the early ’70’s that show his versatility in the rock arena and also tell you a little about a series of tribute albums done by Jon Tiven on Shanachie Records – one of which is dedicated to Don Covay.

If you can, find some of Covay’s music. It is soulful as hell and immensely heart-felt – each song containing nothing but the truth and a big fat beat to go along with it.

Do you know about Don Covay?

The Music Nerd Knows….and you will too, starting with the next blog.

A Little Street Team Work

As I sit here ready to start a day full of article deadlines and some magazine consulting work, I have decided to ruminate on the next few blogs and who I will write about. A little pre-publication “street team” work if you will – you know, do some advance work and get you, the audience, ready for some prime obscure musician/recording writing.

In the next week or so I will be writing about several of my all time soul and jazz faves including soul great Don Covay (any of his albums are good, but there is one obscure blues-based CD he recorded under a group name alias I will be specifically talking about), Memphis soul titan Eddie Hinton (this guy was a genius who could do it all – write songs, play blistering guitar, sing like Otis Redding, and, sadly, have a mental breakdown so severe it cost him his career), organist and hero of mine Jimmy Smith, James Brown’s right hand man and funk-king in his own right Bobby Byrd, the original Do Right Man and brilliant songwriter Dan Penn, and maybe Polk Salad Annie’s best friend Tony Joe White as well.

As you can see, I am on a major soul and jazz kick lately. Over the past year or so I have really become quite bored with rock music. While I am an intense power pop and psyche-rock fan and may decide to do some writing about The Spongetones, Dungen, Willie Wisely, Jellyfish and others of that ilk, by and large most rock is leaving me cold. I am sure it’s just a phase. For a long while, and even continuing to this day, I was up to my earholes in great music as I embraced my inner banjo-loving redneck. While the feeling isn’t as strong, I still get exciting when bands like the Bottlerockets release new albums (which they just did, the album Zoysia on Bloodshot Records) and make tour stops around the Southeast.

There is so much great obscure music
out there, some of it released by major bands and just forgotten about. For example, did you know both The Tokens and The Four Seasons each released great, obscure, forgotten psyche-rock albums that rank right up there with Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds? Bet you didn’t. Very little recent music makes me smile – but the underground stuff, whether it be vintage or new, is simply great to discover and I am hoping I can bring you to some new stuff that makes you travel down a whole different musical avenue.

Well, that’s it for today. Hopefully you know at least a few of these names, or maybe it’s even better if you don’t. Do a little homework this weekend and check some of them out. Their all great – I wouldn’t tell you about them if they weren’t!

The Music Nerd knows…….