Sunday, May 31, 2020

Natural Food - 1972 - Natural Food

Natural Food
Natural Food

01. Pendulum
02. Auld Lang Sine
03. Siren Song
04. Gin House Blues
05. See See Rider
06. Fair Breeze On Buzzard's Bay
07. Wobbly Bird Blues
08. Granny On The Gramophone

John Abercrombie: Guitar
Mait Edey: Piano, Wurlitzer
Lance Gunderson: Guitar
Craig Herndon: Drums
Bill Hurd: Sax (Alto)
Paul Lenart: Guitar
Phil Morrison: Bass
Billy Floyd Thompson: Sax (Alto &Tenor)
Charlie LaChapelle: Bass
Latifah (Brenda James): Vocals

The players in this band are perhaps not well known, but have interesting pedigrees nonetheless: saxophonist (one of the two here, the other is Billy Thompson) Bill Hurd is an award winning player and already was by then; he is also Charles Lloyd's nephew. Those who follow jazz guitar closely will know guitarist Lance Gunderson, who by this time had already performed with Joe Henderson and Chico Hamilton. Bassist Phil Morrison was a veteran of T-Bone Walker's road band; the other bassist (they alternate), Charlie LaChapelle, was part of Hal Galper's band. There is this other guy who you may know as well. They called him John Crumbles back then; he is known by his real name now: John Abercrombie, and he guested on a track here, and there's also drummer Craig Herndon, who's part of the Heikki Sarmanto quartet! The third guitarist was Paul Lenart. As far as we know, singer Brenda "Latifah" James hasn't been heard from since her excellent performances on three of these tunes.

Edey, who arranged all of this material, wanted to present a blues recording that encompassed as much of the blues form as possible in terms of cadence, harmony and rhythm. What Natural Food came up with was something else. In these eight tunes, there is a place where the blues, soul-jazz, early Rhodes funkiness, out jazz, post-bop, Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, acid guitar-vision rock, fuzzed out R&B, and traditional song form all came together for a riot in sound, feel, and groove. In other words, it's a stone classic. The readings of "Gin House Blues" and "See See Rider" are more in line with what's been happening on the beathead scene than it did with the blues-rock sound coming out of the '70s. Part of that has to do with the particular sonorities and plainness in Latifah's voice. She sang these tunes the way you'd converse with a neighbor in the yard if you wanted to get a point across. Edey overdubbed her vocal on "See See Rider," and she did her own overdubbing on "Siren Song." She is a soloist here in an ensemble setting, not a frontperson. The band does not back her: she is part of the band. The hand percussion on "Wobbly Bird Blues," and the two horn players interweaving and interpolating with one another is a fantastic touch and could have been on a Prestige set. "Siren Song" opens with a funky bassline that gets drenched in Rhodes; the same pitch harmony overdub vocal by Latifah offers a centering point for this rhythm heavy approach, the snare is popping, breaking, and then the guitar enters, ready for its chance to cut loose, and it does between the first and third verses. Whoa. The get-down groove quotient on this set is high: it just cooks, simmers, cooks and simmers, until the final cut, "Granny on the Gramophone," where Edey and his pals just let it rip. Bass, Rhodes, wah wah guitars, fuzzed pedals, breaks, loping grooves and general nastiness all push up against one another, building the thing until it just gets all over you and you can't get it off -- much less out of your head. Thanks to the cooperation of Edey and the courage of Mosling, it's a gift that this treasure is available again. Don't miss it the second time around. Just get it!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Stark Reality - 1970 - Discovers Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop

Stark Reality
Discovers Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop

01. Merry Go Round 1:25
02. Junkman's Song 7:35
03. Thirty Days Hath September 6:15
04. The Whale 1:20
05. The Old Prospector 7:43
06. Grandfather Clock 8:08
07. Cooking 2:38
08. Shooting Stars 6:20
09. Rocket Ship 4:13
10. Dreams 8:11
11. Blue Pillow 5:00
12. Swing High 1:22
13. Clouds 6:00
14. Traveling 1:45
15. Bustin' Out Of Doors 6:31
16. Comrades 6:39
17. All You Need To Make Music 12:15

Bonus CD on Reissue:

01. On Being Black
02. New World Generation
03. Red Yellow Moonbeams (Big Band Version)
04. Red Yellow Moonbeams
05. Nani
06. Pretty Music
07. Roller Coaster Ride
08. Too Much Tenderness
09. Sunday's Song
10. Acting, Thinking, Feeling Pt. 1
11. Acting, Thinking, Feeling Pt. 2
12. Acting, Thinking, Feeling Pt. 3
13. Prelude To Say Brother
14. Theme To Say Brother

Bass – Phil Morrison
Design – Mel Dietmier
Drums – Vinnie Johnson
Guitar – John Abercrombie
Vibraphone, Vocals – Monty Stark

Produced by the Stark Reality and WGBH-TV.

“One of the most prized ‘funk’ artifacts of all time, Stark’s project allies Henrix-stoned guitars, heavily fuzzed vibraphone and Bitches Brew rhythms” – MOJO

Hoagy Carmichael, an active jazz musician as early as the 1920s, will forever be regarded as one of jazz music’s originators and innovators. Carmichael had his share of classics with well known tunes like “Star Dust” and “Georgia on my Mind”, but later in his career, also had his share of lesser known songs and albums, amongst them being a 1957 collection of children’s songs including songs like “Comrades” and “Grandfather Clock”, songs hardly worth mentioning when discussing his extensive discography. Over a decade after the initial release of these songs, in 1970, at which point he was long past the pinnacle of his success, Carmichael became the host of a children’s show on the American television network PBS entitled “Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop”. The soundtrack to the television series was provided by an obscure jazz-funk band, Stark Reality and featured the little-known act covering songs from aforementioned children’s album penned by Hoagy Carmichael himself.

At this time, Stark Reality was comprised of four members and led by vibraphonist Monty Stark. The group also included guitarist John Abercrombie who would later go on to play on various notable jazz fusion cuts after his days with Stark Reality. On ” The Stark Reality Discover Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop” the band of Berklee College of Music students were able to update the dated sound of Carmichael’s original recordings to an ultra hip sound, replacing oboes and clarinets with distorted guitar and groovy baselines. While the lyrics remain the same as in the original recordings, Monty and his gang transform Carmichael’s songs into something unrecognizable, yet all the more remarkable.

Its incredibly difficult to attempt to describe the sound Stark Reality accomplished on this album. In some ways it is very similar to more common jazz fusion releases of the early 1970s but the one factor that sets the album apart is that it features vocals, something rather uncommon for jazz fusion, yet certainly a welcomed addition to the album with Monty Stark’s unique and warm style of singing. The Carmichael penned lyrics sometimes do not come into play until well over five minutes into a song following long segments of John Abercrombie managing to get the most unusual sounds possible out of his guitar and solos on what sounds like a distorted Fender Rhodes Piano. These extended jam sessions over high pitched bass lines and ride cymbals tend to have a sort of dark feel to them, making it hard to comprehend how this music appealed to children. “Comrades” has an especially spooky feel to it until two minutes in when the innocent, child-friendly lyrics kick in.

Despite the unique style of “Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop”, it is very listener friendly (probably as a result of it being geared toward children).This being one of the first jazz albums I listened to I can say with confidence it is a good album for even those who have not spent a lot of time investigating jazz music or jazz fusion. Due to it’s rarity and extensive selection of breaks, this album has become a sort of holy grail for beat-diggers and record collectors, resulting in an original copy having a price tag of $1000 + (USD) these days. The casual listener is not likely to shell out that much cash on one album, however, this album is certainly worthy of a download from amazon or iTunes made possible by Now Again Records’ 2003 re-release of this classic fusion material.

This review is for the 2013, 3 CD set by THE STARK REALITY. This is the restored and remastered tracks from the original tapes. Unlike past reissues, this set collects all the known music recorded by this group. Included (with correct lower case letters) is the complete "discovers Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop", "roller coaster ride", and "acting, thinking, feeling" albums. There's a 52 page booklet that's attached to the inside of one (of two) of the (stiff cardboard) bill-fold style CD holders. There's an essay on the music along with some great photos of Monty Stark as a young boy. There's also information and photos of the band members. Also included is recording information for each album. Each disc fits inside a paper slip case for protection from scratches, and slips inside a side slot. Everything fits into a stiff cardboard slipcase-with cool color graphics. The sound (using headphones) is very good-clean and open with no apparent harshness. All in all, a very nice presentation.

For something a little different, you might want to check this out. The band consists of Monty Stark-vibes/voice, Phil Morrison-bass, John Abercrombie-guitar, and Vinnie Johnson-drums. Is this a jazz album? No, not strictly. There's also elements of funk and rock, mixed in with jazz underpinnings. At times you can hear just a bit of psychedelia mixed in, which gives this music even more of an identity. Abercrombie's guitar is oftentimes fuzzed out, other times he sounds reminiscent of his later electric work for the ECM label. The electric bass is prominent-laying down a funky base (listen to "Grandfather's Clock") for both Stark and Abercrombie. And talking about Stark-his vibes (also sometimes fuzzed out) are a combination of jazz and something else that can't be exactly defined. But (and here's the weird thing) it all seems to work. Even the vocals have that funky feel to them. Let's face it-you're talking about Hoagy Carmichael tunes after all. This music will put a smile on your face. And that's not a put down or an excuse because the music isn't all that great. The music is great-the smile is extra.

Included in this collection are the first known recordings by this band (cut for radio), the bigger band pieces, and the Carmichael album in full. This music was recorded in the late 60's/1970 when jazz was changing and fans were open to different sounds and different approaches to music. As I said previously, this is hard to define. It's jazz, it's funk, it's psychedelic, and it's Carmichael's songs on one album. The bigger band album incorporates several horns, a couple of bass players, a couple of percussionists, and a few other instruments. The music is reminiscent of late 60's big band arrangements-or perhaps something by Mingus-or some other forward thinking composer. The arrangements are seemingly loose but are written out-the twists and turns of the music are too sharp for free-jazz (or whatever you want to label it), and are quite energetic. At times I'm also reminded of some of Bill Dixon's more energetic compositions from the 1980's or 90's, or sometimes a bit of Sun Ra. The music changes from big band style charts("on being black") to something pretty funky ("new world generation"), which keeps the interest up. Several hearings will reward listeners with a better understanding of what's going on, and a deeper enjoyment of the music.

Obviously this isn't for everyone. The Hoagy Carmichael kid's songs will put off some, the vocal parts (which are well done) will put others off, and the whole jazz/funk/psych label will make others think twice. I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be met with excitement only by people who are already familiar with THE STARK REALITY. John Abercrombie fans will like hearing him early in his career, and Stark's fuzzed vibes are jazz and something else at the same time. The funky rhythms laid down by Morrison and Johnson keep things moving, and the arrangements are well thought out. No matter if it's the small band or the larger ensemble, this is something unique-as opposed to "weird", which it isn't. Check it out if you want something off the usual path. It'll grow on you.

"Acting, Thinking, Feeling marks the first time that psychedelic jazz ensemble The Stark Reality's Discovers Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop album has been reissued in full (the 2003 Stones Throw Records anthology Now only contained half of the original album's music). The anthology also contains the band's out-of-print Roller Coaster Ride (first issued as 1969 on Now-Again in 2003), and a series of recently discovered, previously-unreleased tracks in a three CD 'complete works' box set. Besides the missing Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop songs, the most exciting additions to the Stark Reality's oeuvre are the three songs recorded between the earliest incarnation of the band -- the big band that recorded 'Theme to Say Brother' and 'Acting, Thinking, Feeling' in 1968 -- and the slimmed down combo that recorded the Roller Coaster Ride and The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop. These recordings display a band in flux, and color the development of Stark's genius. We hear the signature sound of his 'plugged in' vibes for the first time; we hear an early stab at the psychedelic 'Red Yellow Moonbeams' (and realize why his addition John Abercrombie and his fuzz guitar was crucial to his vision); we hear a subtle change towards a more funk and rock based sound. Contains 52-page booklet with never before seen photos, extensive liner notes and annotation."

Leon Redbone - 1978 - Champagne Charlie

Leon Redbone
Champagne Charlie

01. Champagne Charlie 2:52
02. Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone 2:52
03. Sweet Sue (Just You) 2:41
04. The One Rose (That's Left In My Heart) 4:32
05. Alabama Jubilee 1:42
06. Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now) 3:15
07. Yearning (Just For You) 2:48
08. If Someone Would Only Love Me 3:31
09. I Hate A Man Like You 3:41
10. T.B. Blues 3:56

Julien Barber: Violin
Selwart Clarke: Viola
Eddie Davis: Drums
Jonathan Dorn: Tuba
Dennis Drury: Trombone
Tom Evans: Clarinet
Vince Giordano: Sax (Baritone), Tuba
Kathryn Kienke: Violin
Regis Landiorio: Violin
George Marge: Ocarina
Leon McAuliffe: Guitar (Steel)
Eurreal Montgomery: Piano
Kermit Moore: Cello
Sammy Price: Piano
Leon Redbone: Guitar, Vocals
Chris Whiteley: Trumpet
Ken Whiteley: Banjo, Washboard

Record, Mixed And Mastered at Sterling Sound, New York.

Dedicated to the Memory of Emmet Millar and Cliff Edwards.

From the opening track, "Champagne Charlie," to the dazzling finale, "T.B. Blues," Leon Redbone presents an introspective collection of blues and big band melodies in timeless fashion, a rare feat because of its release date in 1978. The record was highly acclaimed and regarded as the purest of jazz and classic blues by a remarkable legend and icon in this musical form. Most of the record, like the amiable "Sweet Sue (Just You)" and memorable "Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)," is filled with the best that blues and ragtime has to offer. The music itself is quite light and jolly during the more uplifting moments, with others such as "I Hate a Man Like You" very depressing and sorrowful. The band backing up Redbone is delightful, filled with jubilant horns, oboes, and trumpets. "T.B. Blues" closes out this record as a charming look back into the world of blues via pioneer Jimmie Rodgers. Two melodies written and composed by giant Jelly Roll Morton are featured here, with fresh and stunning new arrangements by Leon Redbone and company, "If Someone Would Only Love Me" and "I Hate a Man Like You." The record is somewhat poorly recorded, losing its listening ability though still portraying its exuberant style and antique mysteriousness. A charming and romantic listen and study of this period of ragtime and blues that will surely not disappoint the average listener.

This is one of the best Leon Redbone recordings as far as I am concerned. It was the first one I bought on vinyl and began my interest in the wonderful melange of blues, ragtime, Tin Pan Alley classics and vaudeville numbers that he purveyed. I had listened to enough crackling 78s from the period he drew on to love his re-creations from the past that interpreted them brilliantly. (I derived a lot of innocent enjoyment by sandwiching a Leon Redbone album between two vintage recordings and seeing if anyone except guitarists noticed. )
Leon is in great form on this one, helped by some excellent sidesmen and really good production where the pace is never pushed and his voice and guitar are supported rather than being overwhelmed.
There are many excellent tracks on this cd. The two outstanding tracks for me are Jelly Roll Morton's I Hate A Man Like You and Jimmie Rodgers T.B. Blues which showcase his voice and finger-picking to great effect. The cd itself came as a pleasant surprise. The sound quality is actually better than that on my vinyl copy without having been remastered. So although I bought the cd for convenience sake I am thrilled to now own a better quality recording and highly recommend it.

Leon Redbone - 1977 - Double Time

Leon Redbone
Double Time

01. Diddy Wa Diddie 3:05
02. Nobody's Sweetheart 2:13
03. Shine On Harvest Moon 3:21
04. Crazy Blues 4:16
05. Mississippi Delta Blues 1:44
06. Mr. Jelly Roll Baker 3:43
07. My Melancholy Baby 3:08
08. Sheik Of Araby 2:31
09. Mississippi River Blues 3:05
10. Winin' Boy Blues 4:17
11. If We Never Meet Again This Side Of Heaven 3:18

Accordion – Dominic Cortese
Backing Vocals – Andrew Smith (tracks: A3), Captain Billy's Whiz Bang (tracks: A3), Frederick Mount III (tracks: A3), Ira Tucker, Sr. (tracks: B6), James Davis (tracks: B6), James Walker (6) (tracks: B6), Mark S. Bentley (tracks: A3), Dixie Hummingbirds (tracks: B6), William Kruse (tracks: A3)
Backing Vocals, Whistling – Beachy Thompson (tracks: B6)
Banjo – Don McLean (tracks: A5), Eric Weissberg (tracks: A3)
Bass – Milt Hinton
Cello – Kermit Moore
Clarinet – Ed Barefield
Drums – Jo Jones
Piano – Bob Greene 
Soprano Saxophone – Yusef Lateef (tracks: A5)
Trombone – Dick Rath, Vic Dickinson
Trumpet – Ed Polcer, Joe Wilder (tracks: A2)
Tuba – Jonathan Dorn
Viola – Selwart Clarke
Violin – Lewis Eley, Sanford Allen
Vocals, Guitar – Leon Redbone
Whistling – Jerry Teifer (tracks: A3), Leon Redbone (tracks: A4)

Leon Redbone followed up his debut long-player On the Track (1975) with Double Time (1977), an equally enchanting, if not somewhat eclectic blend, of jazz, folk, blues and pop standards -- all in Redbone's undeniably distinct throaty baritone. While the tunes may be familiar, these renderings are steeped in the artist's unique sensibilities. The results are uniformly ingenious and commence with a New Orleans ragtime flavored interpretation of Blind Boy Blake's dirty "Diddy Wa Diddie" blues. Augmenting Redbone's acoustic guitar is an extended cast of session stalwarts and a host of other musical notables -- such as Milt Hinton (bass), Jonathan Dorn (tuba), Vic Dickenson (trombone) and Jo Jones (drums). Don McLean (banjo) sits in, supplying his criminally underutilized instrumental versatility on the endearing revamp of Jimmie Rodgers' "Mississippi Delta Blues." The decidedly demented reading of "Sheik of Araby" is nothing short of inspired insanity. Redbone incorporates a Screamin' Jay Hawkins-esque persona belting out a variety of hoots, snorts, howls and hob-gobbles set behind a hot-steppin' fret board flurry à la Django Reinhardt. Among the album's most affective numbers is a cover of a second Rodgers' penned and similarly titled "Mississippi River Blues." This is one of the more intimately emotive performances on the record and features another jazz legend, Yusef Lateef (soprano sax) -- who provides a sweet understated counterbalance to Redbone's dogged delivery. The track is likewise enhanced with the additional textures of the orally generated "throat tromnet" [read: a cross between a trombone and trumpet] contrasting his lyrical yodels and warbles. Also worthy of mention is the languid ragtime of the Jelly Roll Morton classic "Winin' Boy Blues." Bob Greene's ramblin' piano inflections aptly complement the vocals -- which have been electronically manipulated to reproduce a sound likened to that of a vintage victrola. Rounding out the stack is the sublimely reverent "If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven." The backing harmonies are courtesy of the incomparable Dixie Hummingbirds whose rich blend oozes from behind the minimalist lead and acoustic piano accompaniment. Potential enthusiasts are well served to begin their discovery of Leon Redbone here.

Leon Redbone's CD album "Double Time" features many favorites for the faithful, but two in particular stand out in my memory of this collection. The first is "The Sheik of Araby," which is iconic Redbone in its blustering, humorous take on this classic, one of the most popular songs from the era of the Flapper. The second number that stands out for me is, in my venerable opinion, the best recording I've ever heard of the song "Shine On Harvest Moon." I recall wondering when I saw the "Shine On" title on the album -- why would a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, a boy who'd grow up to give us a fresh, new look at the Blues, why would he choose this shmaltzy old-time sentimental piece for his album? You only have to hear his rendition of it to understand why. When that all-male chorus fades up behind his vocalization, we're totally into the romantic song Redbone has given new wings. The music soars, and we surrender ourselves to the innocence of a time long ago and the euphoria of loving our gal or our guy. This number, "Shine On Harvest Moon," is worth the price of the album, as they say, and it's the main reason for my gifting Redbone's "Double Time" CD album time after time after time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Leon Redbone - 1975 - On The Track

Leon Redbone
On The Track

01. Sweet Mama Hurry Home Or I'll Be Gone 2:49
02. Ain't Misbehavin' (I'm Savin' My Love For You) 4:03
03. My Walking Stick 3:41
04. Lazybones 3:06
05. Marie 4:24
06. Desert Blues (Big Chief Buffalo Nickel) 3:42
07. Lulu's Back In Town 2:34
08. Some Of These Days 3:16
09. Big Time Woman 2:44
10. Haunted House 4:58
11. Polly Wolly Doodle 2:56

Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals [Throat Tromnet], Vocals – Leon Redbone
Banjo – Don McLean
Bass Guitar – Milt Hinton
Castanets – Ralph Macdonald
Clarinet – Billy Slapin
Cornet, Trumpet – Joe Wilder
Drums – Stephen Gadd
Guitar [Hawaiian] – Charles Macey
Piano – Patty Bown
Saxophone – Phil Bodner, Seldon Powell
Trombone – Garnett Brown
Tuba – Jonathan Dorn
Violin – Emanuel Green (tracks: A5), Gene Orloff (tracks: A5), Joe Venuti, Leo Kahn (tracks: A5)

Leon Redbone (born Dickran Gobalian, August 26, 1949 – May 30, 2019) was a Cypriot-American singer-songwriter and musician specializing in jazz, blues, and Tin Pan Alley classics. Recognized by his Panama hat, dark sunglasses, and black tie, Redbone was born in Cyprus of Armenian ancestry and first appeared on stage in Toronto, Canada, in the early 1970s. He also appeared on film and television in acting and voice-over roles.

In concert Redbone often employed comedy and demonstrated his skill in guitar playing. Recurrent gags involved the influence of alcohol and claiming to have written works originating well before he was born – Redbone favored material from the Tin Pan Alley era, circa 1890 to 1910. He sang the theme to the 1980s television series Mr. Belvedere and released eighteen albums.

Redbone was elusive about his origins, and never explained the origin of his stage name. According to a Toronto Star report in the 1980s, he was once known as Dickran Gobalian, and he came to Canada from Cyprus in the mid-1960s and changed his name via the Ontario Change of Name Act. Biographical research published in 2019 corroborated his birth name, and stated that his family was of Armenian origin. His parents lived in Jerusalem, but fled in 1948 to Nicosia, Cyprus, where Redbone was born. By 1961, the family had moved to London, England, and by 1965 to Toronto.

While living in Canada in the late 1960s, Redbone began performing in public at Toronto area nightclubs and folk music festivals. He met Bob Dylan at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1972. Dylan was so impressed by Redbone's performance that he mentioned it in a Rolling Stone interview, leading that magazine to do a feature article on Redbone a year before he had a recording contract. The article described his performances as "so authentic you can hear the surface noise [of an old 78 rpm]." Dylan said that if he had ever started a label, he would have signed Redbone. His first album, On the Track, was released by Warner Bros. Records in 1975.

He was introduced to a larger public as a semi-regular musical guest on NBC's Saturday Night Live, appearing twice in the first season. During the 1980s and '90s Redbone was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He was also a guest on A Prairie Home Companion.

A self-taught musician, he played by ear, sometimes changing the chords of established tunes, never rehearsing with a band, and not following set lists. In an interview printed in the Winter 2017 edition (No. 177) of BING magazine, the publication of the International Club Crosby, clarinetist Dan Levinson recounted working with Redbone:

"I toured with Redbone for 12 years. We used to listen to early Crosby while we were on the road. [Redbone's] taste in music was more eclectic than that of anyone I've ever known -- it included Emmett Miller, Blind Blake, Paganini, Caruso, Gene Austin, John McCormack, Moran and Mack, Cliff Edwards, Jelly Roll Morton, Ted Lewis, Mustafa the Castrato, the Hungarian singer Imre Laszlo, Jimmie Rodgers ('the Singing Brakeman'), Mongolian throat singers, W. C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy ... and early Bing Crosby."

Redbone was described as "both a musical artist and a performance artist whose very identity was part of his creative output." He usually dressed in attire reminiscent of the Vaudeville era, performing in a Panama hat with a black band and dark sunglasses, often while sitting at attention on a stool, with a white coat and trousers with a black string tie. With his reluctance to discuss his past came speculation that "Leon Redbone" was an alternative identity for another performer.Two common suggestions in years past were Andy Kaufman and Frank Zappa, both of whom Redbone outlived. Though sometimes compared to Zappa and Tom Waits for "the strength and strangeness of his persona", he exclusively played music from decades before the rock era, and disdained "blatant sound for people to dance to". In a 1991 interview, he said: "The only thing that interests me is history, reviewing the past and making something out of it."

Redbone survived a small plane crash in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on February 12, 1979. He traveled to engagements exclusively by car, saying, "I carry around many unusual items and devices. They make life difficult for airport security personnel and flying impossible for me.

On May 19, 2015 on his website, his publicist referred to concerns about his health and announced his retirement from performing and recording.

Redbone died on May 30, 2019, following complications from dementia. At the time of his death he was living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in hospice care. He is survived by his wife Beryl Handler, daughters Blake and Ashley, and three grandchildren.

A statement on Mr. Redbone’s website noted his death with cheeky humor: "It is with heavy hearts we announce that early this morning, May 30th, 2019, Leon Redbone crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127."

This is the debut long-player from Leon Redbone (guitar/harmonica/vocals/throat tromnet), a one-man folk/jazz enigma. Although it was incorrectly rumored that the artist was a musical visage of Frank Zappa, Redbone began getting notice during a stint in Toronto, Ontario, in the early '70s. For On the Track (1975), he offers a uniquely authentic revival of turn-of-the-century melodies, including those of the Singin' Brakeman, Mississippi Blue Yodeler Jimmie Rodgers ("Desert Blues") as well as Fats Waller ("Ain't Misbehavin'"). However, he liberally applies the same notable technique to a wide array of pop standards from the likes of Irving Berlin ("Marie") and Johnny Mercer ("Lazy Bones"). The minimalism in the arrangements provides an understated delivery focusing on Redbone's distinguished baritone vocals. This includes his self-proclaimed "throat tromnet" -- an orally generated device that sounds like a combination trombone and trumpet. Accompanying him are quite an aggregate of studio stalwarts -- such as percussionists Ralph McDonald (castanets) and Steven Gadd (drums) as well as legendary jazz heavies Milt Hinton (bass), Garnett Brown (trombone), Seldon Powell (sax), and Jonathan Dorn (tuba). Their contributions are likewise discreet and otherwise tastefully augment the highly developed and melody-intensive arrangements. The Spanish inflections of "My Walking Stick" work subtly behind the artist, supporting rather than detracting from his cool and expressive vocals. The swampy and lethargic "Lazybones" reverberates the swelter of the Delta summertime. Hinton's thick basslines amble along at an even pace -- while Redbone's drowsy vocals contrast the high and tight brass interjections and sonic ornamentation. "Lulu's Back in Town" recalls Rev. Gary Davis' talking blues, as it commences with a brief spoken introduction setting up the premise of the song. The manufactured sound effects of a mostly uninhabited pool hall are in essence a wink of the mind's eye for the listener. Famed jazz producer Joel Dorn was at the helm of these sessions and his experience provides an organic attention to nuance. On the whole, the lack of over-production allows the material room to breathe without stifling the arrangements, yet with enough augmentation to adequately support Redbone's more central delivery.

Content to go on his merry way in music, Leon Redbone blithely ignores pretty much all post World War Two music styles in a career that has endured well over forty years. 'On The Track' was his first album for Warner Brothers, released in 1976, and it sounds as fresh and 'oldly new' as it did back then. Singing in a gravel voiced style, and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Redbone explores New Orleans Jazz, Country Blues and even novelty songs in a way that is coherent and furiously entertaining. In his way, he was pursuing a similar path to that of Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal and Van Dyke Parks - exploring the forgotten hinterlands of American music - and having a great time doing it. The producer of this set, Joel Dorn, deserves praise for the way in which he has captured great performances without trying to impose contemporary production tricks, making the album very faithful to Redbone's idiosyncratic vision. Wonderful music indeed.

Son Seals - 2017 - Live Chicago 1978

Son Seals 
Live Chicago 1978

Add caption

01. Everything I Do Is Wrong
02. I Can't Hold Out
03. Blue Shadows Falling
04. Nobody Wants A Loser
05. Gangster Of Love
06. Mother-In-Law Blues
07. Heart Fixing Business
08. Stormy Monday
09. You Can't Lose What You Never Had
10. Pretty Woman

Bass – Snapper Mitchum
Drums – Tony Gooden
Guitar – Lacy Gibson
Guitar, Vocals – Son Seals
Piano – Alberto Gianquinto
Tenor Saxophone – A.C. Reed
Vocals, Guitar [Special Guest] – Johnny Winter (tracks: 8, 9)

WXRT broadcast from the Wise Fool's Pub, Chicago.

Son Seals with Johnny Winter, live at Wise Fools Pub in Chicago, Illinois, August 1978. Son Seals was one of the biggest blues stars to emerge from Chicago in the 1970s, esteemed for both his guitar work and commanding singing. Broadcast on WXRT, this performance at Chicago's Wise Fools Pub includes highlights from his 1970s albums, as well as several classic blues covers that didn't make it onto those LPs. Blues-rock star Johnny Winter guests on Son's lengthy versions of "Stormy Monday" and Muddy Waters's "You Can't Lose What You Never Had". 

Son Seals - 1984 - Bad Axe

Son Seals 
Bad Axe

01. Don't Pick Me For Your Fool 4:17
02. Going Home (Where Women Got Meat On Their Bones) 3:48
03. Just About To Lose Your Clown 3:10
04. Friday Again 5:27
05. Cold Blood 4:00
06. Out Of My Way 4:32
07. I Think You're Fooling Me 3:52
08. I Can Count On My Blues 6:07
09. Can't Stand To See Her Cry 4:01
10. Person To Person 3:08

Bass – Johnny B. Gayden, Nick Charles
Drums – Rick Howard , Willie Hayes
Keyboards – Carl Snyder Jr., Sid Wingfield
Vocals, Guitar – Son Seals

"Bad Axe" is not Son Seals' best album...that would be "Midnight Son" or "Nothing But The Truth". But there is some really good stuff here, like the tough, mid-tempo grind of "Don't Pick Me For You Fool" and the funky, riff-driven "Can't Stand To See Her Cry", and the arrangements, clanging R&B piano and some ferocious guitar playing, are almost uniformly excellent.

The late, great Frank 'Son' Seals played searing, hard-edged lead guitar and sang his gritty blues and R&B in a huge, raw and throaty voice, backed by a sympathetic four-piece band (second guitar, bass, drums and keyboards). It's not all pure blues, but a mix of "genuine" blues, heavy blues-rock, R&B, and tough, funky soul, and while the production seems a little bit too glossy, Son Seals' vicious guitar usually manages to cut right through to the surface.

Still, the overall impression is a little bland. There are no bad songs here, excactly, but there are a little to few really great ones. The six-minute slow blues "I Can Count On My Blues" almost stalls completely, and a couple of these ten songs just kinda drift by without really being noticed. Take Son Seals' partly spoken rendition of Elmore James' "Person To Person". It lacks some the grit of the original, sure, but it's not's just not great, either, and that's a shame, 'cause Son Seals had the chops, as the above-mentioned albums amply prove.
The swaggering "Cold Blood" and Aaron 'Little Sonny' Willis' "Goin' Home" get the temperature rising, though, and if songs like "Out Of My Way" and "I Think You're Foolin' Me" come off sounding a bit generic, they still pack a pretty good punch, and Son Seals' playing on the latter cut is some of the album's most inspired. It's just a shame that there aren't a couple more really outstanding songs...

Anyway. If you're looking for your first Son Seals album, go for one of the above, or the excellent "Midnight Son". This one is definitely worth picking up along the way, but it probably shouldn't be your first purchase.

Son Seals - 1980 - Chicago Fire

Son Seals
Chicago Fire

01. Buzzard Luck 5:08
02. I'm Not Tired 3:39
03. Leaving Home 6:42
04. Landlord At My Door 4:25
05. Gentleman From The Windy City 4:08
06. Goodbye Little Girl 3:53
07. Watching Every Move You Make 3:42
08. Crying Time Again 4:37
09. Nobody Wants A Loser 4:22

Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone – Henri Ford
Bass – Snapper Mitchum
Drums – David D. Anderson
Guitar – Mark Weaver
Guitar, Vocals – Son Seals
Keyboards – King Solomon
Tenor Saxophone – Jerry Wilson
Trombone – Bill McFarland
Trumpet – Ken Cooper, Paul Howard

Son Seals used to wake up and say, "Blues". He had an aggressive sound that was uniquely Chicago. This fierce CD has captured that sound and feel. Although the disc was recorded in 1980, it has a '70s funk/blues sound. The nine energy-laced songs feature seven originals by Seals, and two covers - the more notable one by Cropper and Pickett. Most songs are up-tempo with hearty girth. As on Midnight Son, Seal's mighty five-piece core band is enlarged by a full brass section with sax, trumpet, and trombone. Chicago Fire closely resembles Midnight Son which was recently chosen among the Top 200 greatest guitar recordings of all time by GuitarOne Magazine.

Buzzard Luck highlights the difficulties and challenges faced by Seals upon arriving in Chicago. Tragic lyrics like ("I can't kill nothing and won't nothing die") paint a bleak picture. Flame-like horns musically drive the band and Seals, in particular, to extreme. I'm Not Tired is one of Seals most swinging numbers ever. Leaving Home contains an arrangement that Seals loved. It is also featured on Going Back Home from Midnight Son, and he used to use it on covers performed during his live sets. On the track, Seals' ferocious vocals are as haunting as King Solomon's bewitching organ. Landlord At My Door contains the definitive Son Seals sound that we now deeply miss. What is that sound? A deep, funk groove with lots of hefty blues layered on top pulsating horns with a guitar solo that effortlessly discharges notes and emotions. Like the disc's opening track, the song weighs the advantages and disadvantages of urban versus rural life. On Nobody Wants A Loser, Seals proclaims, ("the game of life is the hardest one to win"). When he was on top and ahead of that game, there was no stopping the Bad Axe man. By the time you get to hearing Watching Every Move You Make, you start thinking you have already heard the song. Although you haven't, this pinpoints the CD's greatest downfall. The songs are too similar.

Seals' gruff vocals sound like your grouchy old uncle or grandfather. Just like them, there is something that welcomes you. On guitar, Son Seals was a precision shooter. You can hear it in every solo he fires on this 41-minute album. Although the sound quality isn't as bright as today's polished productions, and some instruments are too low in the mix, this genuine blues CD will have you falling in love with the blues, and Son Seals, all over again. They don't make greasy, working-class blues albums like this anymore.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Son Seals - 1978 - Live and Burning

Son Seals
Live and Burning

01. I Can't Hold Out 4:14
02. Blue Shadows Falling 6:14
03. Funky Bitch 3:44
04. The Woman I Love 7:09
05. Help Me, Somebody 5:20
06. She's Fine 3:42
07. Call My Job 4:40
08. Last Night 6:42
09. Hot Sauce 3:01

Bass – Snapper Mitchum
Drums – Tony Gooden
Guitar – Lacy Gibson
Piano – Alberto Gianquinto (tracks: B4)
Saxophone – A.C. Reed
Vocals, Guitar – Son Seals

Live at Wise Fools Pub in Chicago. Covers of Detroit Junior's "Call My Job" and Elmore James' "I Can't Hold Out."

Just listened to this recording for first time in a long time. I was lucky enough to be there for one of the nights they recorded it at Wise Fools, my favorite north-side club - the reincarnation of it after it closed down was a disappointment. Son was always a performer you could count on to give it his all live; unfortunately too many blues artists in those days in Chicago were rather inconsistent in their performances. This was an excellent show and the recording is true to the vibe in the room. I have to agree with the other reviewers who note how Alligator overproduced the soul out of most of their artists in studio recordings. On the other hand, Bruce Iglauer had a lot to do with keeping an otherwise dying genre at the time alive and provide some meager income to a lot of deserving artists.
One of my long-time regrets about this album was the fact that Johnny Winter was a guest star for an amazing set with Son that night (seem to recall an incredible "Stormy Monday" version). From what I heard back when the album came out, Winter's record label (Warner Brothers?) wouldn't allow any of his performance with Son on little Alligator's album. Truly petty and truly disappointing. Anybody out there got a bootleg?... 

Son Seals - 1976 - Midnight Son

Son Seals
Midnight Son

01. I Believe (You're Trying To Make A Fool Out Of Me) 4:15
02. No, No Baby 4:30
03. Four Full Seasons Of Love 2:50
04. Telephone Angel 5:27
05. Don't Bother Me 3:52
06. On My Knees 4:59
07. Don't Fool With My Baby 3:04
08. Strung Out Woman 3:45
09. Going Back Home 7:03

Bass – Harry "Snapper" Mitchum
Drums – Bert "Top Hat" Robinson
Piano, Organ, Clavinet, Electric Piano – Alberto Gianquinto
Vocals, Guitar – Son Seals
Rhythm Guitar – Steve Plair
Tenor Saxophone – Reggie Allmon
Trombone – Bill McFarland
Trumpet – Kenneth Cooper

Armed with a huge, gruff voice and a searing, rough-edged guitar attack, Frank "Son" Seals was one of the finest blues and R&B-performers of the 60s and 70s Chicago scene, and this 1976 album, comprised almost solely of self-penned material, is one of his two or three best records.

He is backed by the standard four-piece band, second guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, and by a small, punchy horn ensemble (trumpet, trombone and a tenor sax). The interplay between the horns and Seals' gritty lead guitar is absolutely excellent, and just listen to that funky backbeat laid down by the rhythm section on songs like "On My Knees", "No, No Baby" and "Don't Bother Me"!

"Midnight Son" produced a number of Son Seals standards, songs which remained in his live repertoire for decades, and the arrangements are uniformly excellent. "Don't Bother Me" is propelled by a meaty horn riff and some rollicking R&B piano, and Seals gets off a sizzling solo, same as on the classic slow grind of "Telephone Angel" and the driving, up-tempo "Don't Fool With My Baby".

Other highlight include the up-tempo "Strung Out Woman" and the jumping soul-blues-stomper "Four Full Seasons Of Love"...but it really doesn't make sense to talk about highlights on an album which isn't anything but.
Get this one, along with his self-titled Alligator records debut, and the powerhouse "Nothing But the Truth", and take it from there! This is a fine, fine latter-day Chicago blues record.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Son Seals Blues Band - 1974 - The Son Seals Blues Band

The Son Seals Blues Band
The Son Seals Blues Band

01. Mother-In-Law Blues 3:12
02. Sitting At My Window 4:30
03. Look Now, Baby 3:24
04. Your Love Is Like A Cancer 4:30
05. All Your Love 3:34
06. Cotton Picking Blues 4:38
07. Hot Sauce 3:04
08. How Could She Leave Me 3:39
09. Going Home Tomorrow 3:37
10. Now That I'm Down 5:58

Bass – John Riley
Drums – Charles L. Caldwell
Guitar, Vocals – Son Seals
Organ – Johnny "Big Moose" Walker

Frank Seals was born in Osceola, Ark., near Memphis, on Aug. 14, 1942. He was nicknamed Son as his father, Jim Seals, had been; his father became Ol' Son. Jim Seals owned an Osceola juke joint, the Dipsy Doodle, and the Seals family lived in back. Son Seals grew up listening to working bluesmen through the 1940's and 1950's. By his early teens, he was joining them, first on drums and later on guitar.

He formed his first band, the Upsetters, in 1959, and started working regularly around Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. He also worked in bands led by Earl Hooker, Robert Nighthawk and the guitarist who became his mentor, Albert King.

Mr. Seals began visiting Chicago in the 1960's, and in 1971 he settled there, began sitting in with bluesmen who included Junior Wells and Hound Dog Taylor, and started playing regular weekend shows at the Expressway Lounge. Bruce Iglauer, a blues fan who had recently started Alligator Records, heard him and released his first album, "The Son Seals Blues Band," in 1973.

For the next decades, Mr. Seals toured nationally and then internationally at clubs, concerts and festivals. He was nominated for a Grammy Award as one of the performers on the 1981 live album "Blues Deluxe," and he received W.C. Handy Blues Awards in 1985, 1987 and 2001. He also performed at the Clinton White House.

Mr. Seals recorded eight albums for Alligator and then made two albums for Telarc. The jam band Phish regularly played his song "Funky Bitch," and Mr. Seals made guest appearances with them. Trey Anastasio, Phish's guitarist, sat in on a remake of "Funky Bitch" for Mr. Seals's 2000 album, "Lettin' Go" (Telarc). In 2002, Alligator released a compilation, "Deluxe Edition."

In 1997, Mr. Seals was shot in the jaw by his wife, whom he later divorced, and in 1999, complications from diabetes led to the amputation of part of his left leg. But he continued to perform until two months ago. He is survived by a sister, Katherine Sims of Chicago, and by 14 children.

"We try and make everybody feel good," he once told an interviewer for the African American Music Collection at the University of Michigan. "I don't want you to come in with your handkerchief in your hand and leave with your handkerchief in your hand, I want you to leave and feel good."

Originally issued in 1973 on Bruce Iglauer's then-new Alligator label, this is the late, great Frank "Son" Seals' debut album, a supremely rough, tough affair with some stinging lead guitar playing, tougher and less polished than Stevie Ray Vaughan and at least as gritty as Johnny Winter and Buddy Guy.

Son Seals mines classic Chicago blues grooves on the swinging "Look Now, Baby" and the slow "Cotton Pickin' Blues", and other highlights include the grinding (and thoroughly unsentimental) "Your Love Is Like A Cancer", the fiery "Mother-In-Law Blues", a genuine blues in the vein of Elmore James, and the funky "How Could She Leave Me". But there are really no weak tracks here at all, just forty minutes of slashing guitar playing and raw bluesy goodness played by the stripped-down four-piece band (Seals, bassist John Riley, drummer Charles Caldwell, and organ player Johnny "Big Moose" Walker").

These compositions are less influenced by soul and rock than Seals' albums would be just a few years later, so there are more traditional A-A-B-arrangements here than on his other records, and his lead guitar playing is sharp as shards of broken glass, as gritty as anything you'll ever hear on a 70s blues record. And while "The Son Seals Blues Band" is perhaps not as instantly memorable as the best work of Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf, it is a very enjoyable record even without an obvious replacement for "Hoochie Coochie Man"!

This is Son Seals at his stripped-down, darkly contemplative best. His up-tempo songs seem to get the most attention and are what built his career but his mastery of slow blues numbers like "Sitting At My Window" and "Now That I'm Down" is unmatched. The mixing of the guitar and hammond organ work to create a very heavy, tube-amp kind of groove which works well no matter the pace. Son Seals chording is as haunting as it is mysterious and for a guitarist is frustratingly difficult to duplicate. His guitar must have been in one hell of a mood that day in the studio. Bruce Iglauer had a talent for getting the best work out of largely unknown regional blues guitarists - we have him to thank for a wealth of energetic, caged-beast blues albums from inspired (and endangered) artists like Seals, Hound Dog Taylor and Albert Collins. This is one of the best of that early era.

Z. Z. Hill - 1978 - Let's Make a Deal

Z. Z. Hill 
Let's Make a Deal

01. Universal Love 4:40
02. This Time They Told The Truth 3:48
03. Stop By And Love Me Sometime 3:45
04. That's All That's Left 3:36
05. You Got Me Doing The Disco 3:45
06. A Message To The Ladies 4:15
07. Let's Make A Deal 3:48
08. Love Is So Good When You're Stealing It 4:24
09. Need You By My Side 3 :59
10. Near But Yet So Far

Artwork – John Berg
Backing Vocals – Julia Tillman Waters, Maxine Willard Waters
Engineer – Bill Wittman, Earl Williams (3), Godfrey Diamond, Phil Shrago, Ramona Janquitto, Tony Bongiovi, Wayne Neuendorf
Mastered By – Ray Janos
Mixed By – Godfrey Diamond, Tony Bongiovi
Photography By – Al Clayton (2)
Producer, Arranged By – Bert deCoteaux

Artwork – John Berg
Backing Vocals – Julia Tillman Waters, Maxine Willard Waters
Engineer – Bill Wittman, Earl Williams (3), Godfrey Diamond, Phil Shrago, Ramona Janquitto, Tony Bongiovi, Wayne Neuendorf
Mastered By – Ray Janos
Mixed By – Godfrey Diamond, Tony Bongiovi
Photography By – Al Clayton (2)
Producer, Arranged By – Bert deCoteaux

Yes, it was released in 1978, at the height of disco mania. Even so, Let's Make a Deal is a surprisingly downhome, soulful experience. Aside the obvious nod to contemporary trends through "You Got Me Doin' the Disco", the remaining nine tracks are brilliant examples of deep, deep Southern Soul.

"Universal Love", "Stop by and Love Me Sometime", "That's All That's Left", "A Message to the Ladies" and "Let's Make a Deal" are superb mid-tempo grooves, while two of the ballads here, "This Time They Told the Truth" and "Love is So Good", were chart hits, the latter even becoming Hill's biggest hit ever.

Pick this one up if you dig Soul, Southern Soul, Downhome Soul and/or Funk. A great album, and available on CD as well, where it is packaged together with Hill's second - and last - LP for Columbia, the more discofied The Mark of Z.Z. (1979).

I am missing the next album from 1979, if anyone out there could hekp I sure will be happy!

Z. Z. Hill - 1975 - Keep on Loving You

Z. Z. Hill 
Keep on Loving You

01. I Created A Monster 4:10
02. That Ain't The Way You Make Love 3:47
03. Steppin' In The Shoes Of A Fool 2:59
04. Two Sides To Every Story 3:32
05. Am I Groovin You 3:07
06. I Keep On Lovin' You 2:42
07. Who Ever's Thrillin You (Is Killing Me) 3:14
08. Look What You've Done 3:00
09. My Turn 3:24
10. I Don't Need Half A Love

Baritone Saxophone – Carl Blouin (tracks: B1 to B4)
Bass – George Porter, Jr. (tracks: B1 to B4), Gordon Edwards (tracks: A1 to A4), Ricky Powell (4) (tracks: B1 to B4), Wilton Felder (tracks: A5, B5)
Drums – Paul Humphrey (tracks: A5, B5)
Guitar – David T. Walker (tracks: A5, B5), Don Peake (tracks: A5, B5), Leo Nocentelli (tracks: B1 to B4), Ray Parker, Jr. (tracks: A1 to A4), Theodore Royal (tracks: B1 to B4)
Keyboards – Arthur Neville (tracks: B1 to B4), Clarence McDonald (tracks: A1 to A4)
Percussion – Joseph Johnson (5) (tracks: B1 to B4), Joseph Modeliste (tracks: B1 to B4), King Errisson (tracks: A5, B5), Ollie Brown (tracks: A1 to A4)
Piano – Clarence McDonald (tracks: A5, B5)
Saxophone – John J. Kelson (tracks: A5, B5)
Strings – The Sid Sharp Strings (tracks: B1, B3)
Synthesizer – Clark Spangler (tracks: A1 to A4)
Tenor Saxophone – Lon Price (tracks: B1 to B4), Michael Pearce (4) (tracks: B1 to B4)
Trombone – John R. Ewing (tracks: A5, B5)
Trumpet – John Audino (tracks: A5, B5), Marshall Cyr (tracks: B1 to B4), Melvin E. Moore (tracks: A5, B5)
Vocals – Carolyn Willis (tracks: A5, B5), Dennis Perry (tracks: A2, A4), Edna Wright (tracks: A2, A4), Julia Tillman (tracks: A2, A4, A5, B5), Maxine Willard (tracks: A5, B5), Michael Gray (2) (tracks: A2, A4), Shirley Jones (tracks: A2, A4), Tyron Hunter (tracks: A2, A4)
Woodwind – William E. Green (tracks: A5, B5)

B5 (P) 1973 United Artists Music And Records Group
A5, B1, B2 (P) 1974 United Artists Music And Records Group

A1 to A4 recorded and mixed at ABC Recording Studios, Los Angeles, Calif.
A5, B5 recorded and mixed at United Artists Studios, Los Angeles, Calif.
B1, B3 recorded at Seasaint Studios, New Orleans, Louisiana. Additional recording at Independent Recorders, Los Algenles, California. Mixed at at Devonshire Sound Studios, North Hollywood, California
B2, B4 recorded and mixed at Seasaint Studios, New Orleans, Louisiana

Hill's last album for United Artists is another great funk record, produced by soul giants Allen Toussaint and Lamont Dozier.

Dozier produced the first four tracks (side A), which form a mixed, if highly funky, bag. "I Created a Monster" without a doubt is the hardest piece of all-out monster funk that Hill ever waxed. "That Ain't the Way..." on the other hand is a delicate ballad, while "Steppin' in the Shoes..." picks up the pace again in a strange country-funkish way. Finally, there's the bouncy "Two Sides to Every Story", which is pretty good, but features some ghastly synthesizers that almost kill the song.

Allen Toussaint produced the bulk of the remainder of the LP, and to great effect. Aside the rousing, funky title track, there is the fine ballad "Whoever's Thrilling You (Is Killing Me)", the busy "Look What You've Done" and the sarcastic "My Turn".

"I Don't Need Half a Love" ends the album, but actually is a track dating from late 1973, when it was released as a single and became one of Hill's few hits for United Artists.

Z. Z. Hill - 1974 - Z.Z

Z. Z. Hill

01. It Ain't Safe 3:00
02. Let Them Talk 2:55
03. Am I Groovin' You 4:35
04. Snap Your Fingers 3:05
05. Bad Mouth And Gossip 3:10
06. Clean Up America 3:00
07. Country Love 2:35
08. The Best I Ever Had 3:05
09. Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right 2:45
10. You're Killing Me (Slowly But Surely) 2:50
11. Funny Face

Backing Vocals – George Soule (tracks: B1), Harrison Calloway (tracks: B1), Rhodes, Chalmers & Rhodes, Ronnie Eades (tracks: B1)
Baritone Saxophone – Ronnie Eades
Bass – Jerry Bridges
Congas – Tom Roady
Drums – Roger Clark
Guitar – Ken Bell
Keyboards – Tim Henson
Remix – Al Cartee, George Soule
Tenor Saxophone – Harvey Thompson
Trombone – Charles Rose
Trumpet – Harrison Calloway

Recorded at Fame Recording Studio, Muscle Shoals, Alabama

Hill's second album for United Artists was recorded at the fabled Fame studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Rick Hall's Fame studio could pride itself as having been the operating base for some of soul music's finest performers: Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Clarence Carter and Percy Sledge, to name a few. Come 1974, however, soul music – and especially raw, Southern Soul – had ceased to be the most commercially viable black music style: hard-hitting funk bands such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang were rapidly rising in popularity, whereas the first signs of the hideous disco epidemic were becoming visible as well.

All this must be taken into account when listening to 'Z.Z.'. Like its predecessor, it is a superior, raw and funky collection of Southern Soul at its finest, and the fact that it was less than successful in the charts only shows yet again that quality and commercial success rarely go hand in hand.

The album kicks off with a ferocious funk jam, the stupendously grooving "It Ain't Safe", which opens with the sound of a knock on the door, followed by Z.Z. hilariously shouting 'who is it??' For a brief while, a conversation between Z.Z. and the lady at the door can be heard, sounding very similar to the bickering banter that is audible throughout 'The Brand New Z.Z. Hill'. Here, though, it is kept thankfully short.

The gutbucket funkiness of "It Ain’t Safe" temporarily makes way for a delicate, sweet rendition of Little Willie John's "Let Them Talk", but Z.Z. Hill is back in full funk mode with the greasy, laid back groove of "Am I Groovin' You?" Thundering drums, popping bass, blaring horns and a repeating, hypnotizing guitar lick made this one of Hill's sweatiest work outs up to that point, although the dark, simmering groove of the socio-political "Clean Up America" – which sounds almost like the theme for a blaxploitation flick – is a strong contender as well.      

Hill then delved right back into the Blues, with the original "Bad Mouth And Gossip", a raunchy, mid-tempo blues wailer of the sort that would make him a star in the 1980s.  

The singer proved as much at ease with soulfully interpreting country material. His version of Don Gibson's "Snap Your Fingers" is heartfelt and warm, but it's the tunes co-written by recording engineer Al Cartee that really give a good example of the country-soul hybrid that had already proven to work well for other soulsters such as Johnny Adams, Joe Simon and Joe Tex. Whereas "Country Love" may sound a bit too derivative on the chorus, the plaintive, rollicking "The Best I Ever Had" is sheer magic, with Hill's at times almost velvety vocal. Equally impressive is the lamenting "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right", which is richly enhanced by a churchy organ in the background and infectious horns.

"You're Killing Me (Slowly But Surely)" probably is most enduring of all. First recorded by his erstwhile label mate Freddie North in 1971, Hill gives his own spin on this mournful, tear jerking opus. The inclusion of Donna Fargo's huge hit "Funny Face" is well executed, but hardly essential.

Z. Z. Hill - 1972 - The Best Thing That's Happened To Me

Z. Z. Hill 
The Best Thing That's Happened To Me

01. I've Got To Get You Back 3:10
02. You Were Wrong 3:15
03. Your Love Makes Me Feel Good 3:00
04. My Adorable One 3:10
05. Can I Get A Witness 2:45
06. Love In The Street 2:45
07. Your Love 2:47
08. Cause I Love You 2:53
09. Dream Don't Let Me Down 3:18
10. Friendship Only Goes So Far 3:21
11. The Red Rooster 2:47
12. Ain't Nothing You Can Do

Arranged By – Arthur Wright
Art Direction – Mike Salisbury
Design [Album] – Lloyd Ziff
Engineer – Lewis Peters

Under the guidance of his brother Matt, with whom he had just recorded the Top 20 R&B hit "Don’t Make Me Pay For His Mistakes" on Matt's independent Hill label, Z.Z. next struck a deal with United Artists in 1972.

His first album for that company, along with the two that would follow, clearly demonstrate Hill shifting toward a more funky terrain, a musical venture that suited the singer very well. 'The Best Thing That’s Happened To Me' is a very strong album brimming with mid-tempo grooves, all wonderfully produced by brother Matt and West Coast recording alumnus Arthur Wright.

The overall mood of the LP is set instantly with Jimmy Lewis' pensive "I’ve Got To Get You Back", a smouldering piece of gutbucket, swampy Southern Soul featuring Hill's groaning and pleading lead. While not as busy as the rendition of Bobby Womack on his seminal 1972 album 'Understanding', the lazy groove, augmented by subdued backing vocals and a hint of brass, is a perfect vehicle for Hill's downhome, Texas drawl vocal delivery. Another track culled from Lewis' songbook, "Friendship Only Goes So Far", is more of a soulful country effort.

Next up is an updated, frantic funk workout of Hill's very first hit, the self-written "You Were Wrong". A sharp horn arrangement and the plodding beat set it miles apart from its '60s predecessor. That same year, blues guitarist and fellow Texan Freddie King would cut an equally swiniging version of the song, retitled "You Was Wrong", for his LP 'Texas Cannonball'.

Chicago Soul singer/guitarist Fred Hughes – who recorded some of the last successful sides for the fabled Vee Jay label in 1965 – wrote no less than four tracks for Hill's premier UA album, and in a way, is the unsung hero of this LP. The fatback groove monster "Your Love Makes Me Feel Good" has Hill soaring over a wild rythmic stew propelled by a sizzling bass, congas and razor sharp 'chanks' on guitar. "Your Love", arguably the best track here, is another incredibly strong, driving tour de force. Whereas Hill's voice remains subdued in the opening stanzas, he rips it up on the chorus, where a simple but oh so effective horn arrangement keeps the infectious beat rolling on. "Cause I Love You" is almost a carbon copy of "Your Love", although steeped more firmly in the Blues. "Dream Don't Let Me Down", on the other hand, is a slow burner. A beautiful, contemplative piece perfectly suited for Hill's desperate pleadings, riding on top of a slow, almost stuttering, mesmerizing groove.

Hill's choice of material to cover is tasteful, as well. There is a lurching, almost weeping rendition of  "My Adorable One", a song previously recorded by soul giants Joe Simon and Percy Sledge. "Can I Get A Witness", originally popularized by Motown heavy Marvin Gaye in 1963, is upgraded, and a heavily retooled, funked up reading of "The Red Rooster" takes this ageless Willie Dixon classic into the '70s. In between, Hill tries his hand at "Love In The Street", a soulful, bluesy composition by Stax producer Don Davis (nom de guerre: Arthur Snyder), that was first recorded as the B-side to Johnnie Taylor’s 1971 hit "Hijackin' Love".  Hill's first chart hit for UA, however, consisted of a torrid, incredibly raw version of Bobby 'Blue' Bland's "Ain't Nothing You Can Do", which has Z.Z. almost blaring through the speakers.

Z.Z. Hill - 1971 - The Brand New Z.Z. Hill

Z.Z. Hill 
The Brand New Z.Z. Hill

Blues At The Opera (Communication In Regard To Circumstances)
Act I
01. Scene I "It Ain't No Use" 4:56
02. Scene II "Ha Ha (Laughing Song) 4:25
Act II
03. Scene I "Second Chance" 5:00
04. Scene II "Our Love Is Getting Better" 4:00
05. Finale "Faithful And True" 4:15
06. Choking Kind 3:09
07. Hold Back (One Man At A Time) 3:05
08. A Man Needs A Woman (Woman Needs A Man) 3:14
09. Early In The Morning 2:47
10. I Think I'd Do It 2:15
Bonus Tracks
11. Suppertime (Home Just Ain't Home At) 4:11
12. Just As I Am 3:41
13. Touch 'Em With Love 3:54
14. Put A Little Love In Your Heart 3:05
15. Just As I Am (Collector's Version) 3:37
16. Faithful And True (Collector's Version) 5:32
17. It's A Hang Up Baby 2:35
18. Put A Little Love In Your Heart (Collector's Version) 3:01
19. Hold Back (One Man At A Time) (Collector's Version) 3:16
20. Early In The Morning (Collector's Version) 4:02
21. I Think I'd Do It (Collector's Version) 2:14

Bass – Bobb Wray, Butch Owens, Charles Haywood
Drums – Fred Proudy, Jasper Guarino, Lou Mullenix
Guitar – Jesse Carr, Jimmy Evans
Horns – Charles Rose, Gene "Bowlegs" Miller, Gerald Richards, James Mitchell, Joe Arnold, Louis Collins, Mike Stough, Sonny Royal, Stacy Goss
Organ – Chuck Levell, Clayton Iv, Jerry Williams Jr., Ronnie Oldham
Piano – Chuck Levell, Clayton Ivy, Jerry Williams Jr., Ronnie Oldham
Voice Actor [Background] – Cheryl Echols, Leawaii Little, Prince Phillip Mitchell

Swamp Dogg is a genius, no questions asked. A giant among producers of funky soul extravaganzas. The music on this disc is incredible, pure Southern Soul, albeit with a typical Swamp Doggy twist.

The Brand New Z.Z. Hill is a full-fledged concept album, and Swamp Dogg went out of his way to make something special of it.

The entire album is given the subtitle 'Blues at the Opera (Communication in Regard to Circumstance)'. Furthermore, the songs are contained in separate 'acts' with its individual 'scenes'...

Act I features the two 'scenes' "It Ain't No Use" and "Ha Ha (The Laughing Song)".

Act II features scenes III ("Second Chance") and IV ("Our Love Is Getting Better").

Act III is the finale, featuring "Faithful & True", "Choking Kind", "Hold Back (One Man at a Time)", "A Man Needs a Woman (A Woman Needs a Man)", "Early in the Morning" and "I Think I'd Do It".

The concept? Well, love gone bad, and gone bad in a downhome early '70s kind of way: hilarious chatter, sarcastic banter and a lot of tears can be heard before some scenes, which is then followed by Z.Z. Hill's magic vocal. But those embellishments at times work counterproductive: the chat session between a man (who's been played on) and his woman (who played on him) can get tiring at times. But the entire experience is most rewarding.

Funk tunes such as "Ha Ha", "I Think I'd Do It" and bluesy sessions such as "It Ain't No Use" make this a great soulful record.

Ace Records re-released the album on CD together with the equally superb 'Friend' album by Mankind label mate Freddie North.

Swamp Dogg himself released the album on CD in 2003, featuring no less than 10 bonus tracks.

Sounding like the middle ground between Bobby "Blue" Bland and Otis Redding, Z.Z. Hill had only just begun to make an impression on the charts after a few singles for Kent and United Artists when his contract was sold and he found himself recording for Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams, a prospect he didn't especially appreciate. Under duress, in a mere three days, Hill cut the vocal tracks for an LP and a handful of singles, and that album, The Brand New Z.Z. Hill, proved to be one of the most ambitious projects of his career. A song cycle about Hill's romantic dilemmas with two different women, Brand New featured dialogue interludes along with ten songs, several of which were written by Williams with Gary Bonds (who was leaving the "U.S." out of his name at the time). Concept albums may have been all the rage in 1970, but as a narrative piece, Brand New leaves a certain amount to be desired, as the story doesn't flow very well and the dialogue sections distract more than they bring the listener in. But the material is strong -- especially "Faithful and True," "Chokin' Kind," and "Laughing Song (Ha Ha)" -- and Williams brought together a fine crew of Muscle Shoals session players who give these sessions an updated Stax Records feel that suits Hill's gritty but heartfelt vocal style beautifully. If Williams' more ambitious production notions don't quite click on The Brand New Z.Z. Hill, when it gets down to serving up some rough-and-ready Southern soul, this album delivers the goods, and it's a better fit (and more interesting) than the sound of Hill's best known work for Malaco in the '80s. Alive Naturalsound's 2013 reissue includes eight bonus tracks, taken from the singles Hill cut at the tail-end of the Brand New sessions, and if "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" was a bad match for the blues/soul icon, "Just as I Am" and "I Think I'd Do It" are just what the doctor ordered.

Z.Z. Hill - 1967 - A Whole Lot Of Soul

Z.Z. Hill 
A Whole Lot Of Soul

01. When Something Is Wrong With My Baby 2:50
02. What Am I Living For 3:30
03. Nothing Takes The Place Of You 2:59
04. Knock On Wood 2:45
05. Steal Away 2:45
06. You Gonna Make Me Cry 2:50
07. You Send Me 2:55
08. Midnight Hour 2:25
09. When A Man Loves A Woman 2:55
10. Make Me Yours 2:43
11. Nothing Can Change The Love I Have For You 2:55
12. Greatest Love 2:30

Sadly, the Z.Z. Hill story is a familiar one, with Texan born soul and blues man never really enjoying the commercial success his considerable talent deserved. Z.Z. Hill moved to Los Angeles in 1963, and in 1964 had a minor hit with You Were Wrong, which reached 100 in the US Billboard 100. However, this was enough for the Bihari brothers to sign Z.Z. Hill to Kent-Modern Records where he spent the next four years. This period is documented on That’s It! The Complete Kent Recordings 1964-1968 which was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. That’s It! The Complete Kent Recordings 1964-1968 is two CD set that is a reminder of what was a golden period for Z.Z. Hill, who was regarded as one of soul’s rising stars.

Arzell J. Hill  was born in Naples, East Texas, on September the ’30th’ 1935, and began his singing career in the late fifties, when he joined the gospel group the Spiritual Five. They who toured Texas, which was akin to  a musical apprenticeship for the young Arzell J. Hill . However, like many gospel singers before him, Arzell J. Hill  would eventually crossover,

By then, Arzell J. Hill had discovered the music of Sam Cooke, BB King, and Bobby “Blue” Bland, who influenced him when he began singing in club in and around Dallas. Around this time, Arzell J Hill became the vocalist in bands led by Bo Thomas and Frank Shelton. It was around this time that Arzell J. Hill became Z.Z. Hill, a homage to his musical hero BB King.

In the late fifties, Z.Z. Hill’s elder brother Matt Hill who was a producer decided to move to California. Once he was settled, he invited Z.Z. Hill to join him in the California sunshine.

As the fifties gave way to the sixties, Matt Hill booked some studio time for Z.Z. Hill who recorded six songs. When Matt Hill sold the six songs to Chess Records, it looked as i Z.Z. Hill was about to make a breakthrough. However, Chess Records decided not to release the songs, which frustrated the Hill brothers.

Not long after Chess Records decided not to release Z.Z. Hill’s songs, Matt Hill founded two record labels Mesa and MH Records in late 1963. The new labels’ first signing was one Z.Z. Hill who released his debut single Five Will Get You Ten on Mesa. The single sold well locally, and Matt Hill released You Were Wrong as Z.Z. Hill’s sophomore single.This was a song that Z.Z. Hill had recorded in 1960 as You Was Wrong. However, when Z.Z. Hill released You Were Wrong in 1964, the sold well enough to reach number 100 in the US Billboard 100 where it spent just one week. However, for Z.Z. Hill this was the break he had been looking for.

The Bihari brothers who owned Kent-Modern Records had been following Z.Z. Hill’s career, and after the success of You Were Wrong, offered him a recording contract. Z.Z. Hill accepted and signed for Kent Records which would be his home for the next four years.

Having signed for Kent-Modern Records, Z.Z. Hill entered the studio to record his debut for his new label on ’15th’ September 1964. That day, Z.Z. Hill recorded two of his own compositions the bluesy, soulful  single You Don’t Love Me and the rueful ballad If I Could Do It All Over which featured on the B-Side. However, when You Don’t Love Me was released on Kent Records in 1964, it failed to trouble the charts. This was a huge disappointment for Z.Z. Hill considering the quality of You Don’t Love Me.

It wasn’t until November 1964 that Z.Z. Hill returned to the studio, and cut four new sides. This included the two Z.Z. Hill compositions, including the soul-baring ballad Someone To Love Me which was released on Kent Records in 1965. Tucked away on the B-Side was the racy twelve-bar Have Mercy where Z.Z. Hill delivers a needy, pleading vocal. History repeated itself when Someone To Love Me failed commercially on its release.

Later in 1965, Z.Z. Hill returned with his third single for Kent Records, which featured another two of his compositions. This included Hey Little Girl which featured Oh Darlin’ on the B-Side. Both songs featured horns which added to the tougher sound that Z.Z. Hill was showcasing. However, it failed to find an audience and Z.Z. Hill’s third single for Kent Records sunk without trace.

By then, Kent Records had exhausted their supply of material by Z.Z. Hill, so once again sent him into the Western studio with arranger Maxwell Davis. That day, they cut four songs penned by Z.Z. Hill, including the uptempo dancer What More which featured the blues-tinged stomper That’s It on the B-Side. It’s a hidden gem and was too good to be consigned to a flip side. Maybe it would’ve fared better than What More which didn’t even trouble the lower reaches of the charts upon its release.

For his final release of 1965, two Z.Z. Hill songs were chosen for his fifth single for Kent Records. The beautiful string drenched ballad Happiness Is All I Need where horns and punctuate the arrangement was chosen as the single. On the B-Side was Everybody Has To Cry another quality song which features an impassioned and emotive vocal could’ve been released as a single. However, Happiness Is All I Need got the nod, and was released as a single. Z.Z. Hill flew to Dallas to appear on the television show The !!! Beat, but even this publicity didn’t help sales Happiness Is All I Need. Just like previous singles, it failed to find and audience and Z.Z. Hill was zero from five.

As 1966 dawned, Z.Z. Hill had released five singles for Kent Records, and was no nearer making a breakthrough than the day he signed to the label. For his next single, Jules Bihari and Roscoe Gordon’s No More Doggin’ was chosen. It features a Motown inspired dance track whose ‘contemporary’ sound it was hoped would appeal to record buyers. Hidden away on the B-Side the Z.Z. Hill penned The Kind Of Love I Was which was a bluesier sounding track. Z.Z. Hill’s sixth single for Kent Records showcased the two sides of the Texan singer. Alas, ZZ Hill’s cover of No More Doggin’ was no more successful than his previous singles, and failed to chart.

Just a few weeks after No More Doggin’ failed to chart, Z.Z. Hill was back with his seventh single for Kent Records, I Found Love. It was penned by Z.Z. Hill and was one of his finest releases. He’s accompanied by backing vocals as he gives thanks for the love he’s found. On the B-Side was the shorter version of Aaron Collins’ uptempo Set Your Sights Higher. Backing vocals and horns accompany Z.Z. Hill on another of the hidden gems from his time at Kent Records. However, when I Found Love was released in 1966, it too failed commercially and things were getting serious for Z.Z. Hill.

By then, Z.Z. Hill had released  seven singles for Kent Records and none of these singles had troubled the charts. However, the Bihari brothers thought that their new producer, Richard Parker who had penned and produced a number of successful singers. The Bihari brothers believed that he could turn round Z.Z. Hill’s career.

Richard Parker took Z.Z. Hill into the studio where they recorded the  Fred Hughes and Freeman King ballad You Can’t Hide A Heartache was recorded. For the B-Side Aaron Collins’ twelve bar stomper Gimme Gimme was chosen. When You Can’t Hide A Heartache was released on Kent Records in 1966, Z.Z. Hill, his producer and the label owners the Bihari brothers hoped that it would provide the Texan soul man with a hit single. Alas, it wasn’t to be and the search for a Z.Z. Hill’s first hit single for Kent Records continued.

After eight singles which failed to chart, the Bihari brothers might have been forgiven for reigning in the spending on Z.Z. Hill. After all, he wasn’t making Kent Records any money. Quite the opposite, with eight singles failing to even trouble the lower reaches of the charts. Despite that, the Bihari brothers decided to release Z.Z. Hill’s debut album.

Rather than send Z.Z. Hill into the studio to record fresh material, six of his first seven singles became The Soul Stirring Z.Z. Hill. Only No More Doggin’ and The Kind Of Love I Want were omitted from The Soul Stirring Z.Z. Hill when it was released in 1966. Sadly, it was a familiar story with The Soul Stirring Z.Z. Hill failed to find an audience. Following the commercial failure of The Soul Stirring Z.Z. Hill, it was  a year before the Texan soul man returned to the studio.

In January 1967, Z.Z. Hill headed to Custom Studios, in Culver City, where he met Mike Akopoff who was tasked with rescuing his career. By then, Z.Z. Hill desperately needed a hit single, and the song that was chosen was Allen Toussaint’s ballad Greatest Love. Z.Z. Hill sounds not unlike Ray Charles as he delivers a heartfelt, hopeful and needy vocal that is full of emotion. When it was released by Kent Records, Greatest Love started to sell well, and it looked like it was about to give ZZ Hill his first hit single in three years. However, distribution problems hampered the sales of  Greatest Love and Z.Z. Hill’s search for a hit single continued.

Just two months later, on the ‘16th’ of March 1967, Z.Z. Hill was back in  Custom Studios with Mike Akopoff, where he recorded two new tracks. The first was Jimmy Holiday, Jimmy Lewis and Cliff Chamber’s horn driven dancer Where She Att which would be his tenth single. On the B-Side was Z.Z. Hill’s Baby I’m Sorry where horns and harmonies play an important part in this irresistible dancer which could’ve been released as a single in April 1967. It stood a good chance of doing better than Where She Att which never came close to troubling the charts. Z.Z. Hill was zero for ten after three years at Kent-Modern Records.

When it came time for Z.Z. Hill to record his eleventh single, Jimmy Holiday, Jimmy Lewis and Cliff Chamber’s Everybody Needs Somebody was chosen. Singer-songwriter Jimmy Lewis even supplied a demo which Z.Z. Hill copied when he came to record his heart-wrenching cover of Everybody Needs Somebody. On the B-Side was Arthur Adams’ You Just Cheat And Lie which was a slick and hook-laden uptempo dancer. Later in 1967, Everybody Needs Somebody was released as a single, but this quality cut followed in the footsteps of its ten predecessors and failed to chart.

Despite his lack of success, the Bihari brothers hadn’t given up on Z.Z. Hill. They decided to book a week’s studio time in June 1967 where he recorded his sophomore album A Whole Of Soul. It was an album that featured cover versions of familiar songs, including many soul classics. This included David Porter and Isaac Hayes’ When Something Is Wrong With My Baby which joined Jimmy Hughes’ Steal Away, Toussaint McCall’s Nothing Takes The Place Of You, Deadric Malone’s You Gonna Make Me Cry, Wilson Pickett’s Midnight Hour, Bettye Swann’s Make Me Yours, Allen Toussaint’s Greatest Love and Sam Cooke’s You Send Me and Nothing Can Change The Love I Have For You. They were Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper’s Knock On Wood; Andrew Wright and Calvin Lewis’ When A Man Loves A Woman and Art Harris and Fred Jay’s What Am I Living For? These songs became A Whole Of Soul which was produced by Mike Akopoff. Could the album transform Z.Z. Hill’s fortunes?

Sadly, it wasn’t to be and A Whole Of Soul which is a hugely underrated album by Z.Z. Hill slipped under the musical radar when it was released by Kent Records later in 1967. Z.Z. Hill’s career was now at a crossroads.

After the release of A Whole Of Soul, Kent Records released What Am I Living For as Z.Z. Hill’s twelfth single in December 1967. It found Z.Z. Hill laying bare his soul as backing vocalists accompany him every step of the way. Tucked away on the B-Side was a powerful and poignant cover of Nothing Can Change This Love (I Have For You). Despite the quality of both songs, What Am I Living For failed to trouble the charts.

Just a month later, in January 1968, Z.Z. Hill released the ballad Nothing Can Change The Love I Have For You which featured another ballad Steal Away on the B-Side. Both songs featured Z.Z. Hill at his most soulful and he breathed meaning and emotion into the lyrics. However, Nothing Can Change The Love I Have For You passed record buyers by and it was a case unlucky thirteen for Z.Z. Hill.

Nothing more was heard of Z.Z. Hill until he released a cover of Arthur Adams and Larry Perrault’s You Got What I Need on Kent Records in September 1968. It was produced by Freddy DeMann was an uptempo track where strings and backing vocalists accompanied Z.Z. Hill’s needy vocal as his search for a hit continued. Sadly, the slick and contemporary sounding You Got What I Need failed commercially, and it was nearly the end of the road for Z.Z. Hill.

Three months later in December 1968, Z.Z. Hill was back with a cover of Tim Hardin’s Don’t Make Promises (You Can’t Keep). This was Z.Z. Hill’s fifteenth single for Kent Records which was once again, produced by Freddy DeMann. He again uses strings and backing vocalists who accompany Z.Z. Hill on his catchy single that should’ve charted. Alas, Don’t Make Promises (You Can’t Keep was the one that got away for Z.Z. Hill. Sadly, it was also Z.Z. Hill’s swan-song for Kent Records.

After the release of Don’t Make Promises (You Can’t Keep, Z.Z. Hill left Kent Records after releasing fifteen singles, twelve B-Sides, two albums and ten bonus tracks on disc two. All this features on That’s It! The Complete Kent Recordings 1964-1968 which was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. That’s It! The Complete Kent Recordings 1964-1968 is the most comprehensive overview of Z.Z. Hill’s time at Kent Records.

Despite consistently recording soul music of the highest quality, neither Z.Z. Hill’s fifteen singles, nor the two albums he released for Kent Records were a commercial success. This was ironic as the music Z.Z. Hill recorded at Kent Records was some of the finest of his career. During the seventies, thirteen of Z.Z. Hill’s singles charted in the US R&B charts and two in the US Billboard 100.