Side Tracked: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band


Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band are forever canonized in the church of funk and soul with their 1971 hit “Express Yourself”, but they were far from just being a one-trick pony.  Truly, it was the rhythm section that was the band’s strongest asset.  Anchored by Al McKay on guitar, Melvin Dunlap on bass, and James Gadson on drums, it would be this trio that would long outlast the initial iteration of the band, and make a large impact on music throughout the 70s.

Al McKay would go on to be one of the guitarists of Earth, Wind & Fire, and it’s his playing that opens “Shining Star” while Melvin Dunlap would bring drummer James Gadson along with him to play behind Bill Withers on Still Bill which includes “Use Me” and “Kissing My Love”. After that, Gadson was just about everywhere,  working on Marvin Gaye’s I Want You, Donna Summer’s “Bad Girl”, Cheryl Lynn’s “To Be Real”, and one of my favorite so bad it’s good jams, Carl Carlton’s “She’s A Bad Mama Jama”, among a whole host of others.

But Together is an album long before all that, released in 1968, and finds the band recreating their live show that brought them acclaim in the first place, running through energetic takes on James Brown (“Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”), The Temptations (“Get Ready”), Eddie Floyd (“Knock On Wood” which runs at almost an absurd pace) and Wilson Pickett* (“Something You Got”).

Still, my favorite cover from the album has to be their version of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, which manages to keep the grit from the original and bring along a hell of a groove. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve restarted the song just to hear how magnificently Gadson brings the rest of the band into line, opening with some dirty snare rolls before clicking the band into rhythm. The call and response from Charles and the rest of the band is a nice touch too.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band


* Though it’s Wilson Pickett’s version that gets remembered, the song was written by Chris Kenner, who was also responsible for “Land of 1000 Dances”


Side Tracked: I Hope We Passed the Audition…

When it comes for people to try to knock on The Beatles; to find some sort of weakness within their absolute dominance of the pop field of music in the 60’s, many point to their musicianship.  Pete Townshend would famously say that listening to The Beatles in stereo was the best way to tell how shitty they were at their instruments.  While none of the members may have been exceptionally gifted at their instrument (i say this only in terms of a virtuoso ability, i.e. Paul McCartney may not have been flashy but he still proved to be one of the finest rock bassists in terms of melodic lines) there was no denying that they could hold down a song, having played together for many years.  In sports they often say a team is only as strong as their weakest member, and most would agree that in terms of The Beatles, that would be Ringo.  Yet Ringo was no slouch, often having the innate ability to play to the song, fundamentals in drumming that most forget, and in a way all of The Beatles possessed this ability with their instruments, playing to be heard as a group of individuals, not individuals within a group.  A great example would be “Get Back”

“Get Back” written by Paul McCartney starts out with an unforgettable intro albeit a simple one, Ringo is playing paradiddle’s for heaven’s sake (for frame of reference, in my 2 weeks or so of drum lessons, this was a snare hitting pattern that I had already mastered), John and George are playing simple guitar chords accenting on the off beats, and Paul’s pretty much just playing the roots of the bass line.  Yet you get this fantastic sound, one full of energy, a full sound, where the melody and rhythm are almost in-discernable from each other, all the listener hears is the song itself, a great interlocked groove of rhythm and melody.  Billy Preston proves to be a great addition, putting in keyboard fills here and there and Johns little solo guitar runs are great as well, the tone is exceptional and the breakdown at the end, left off the single version is too great to leave off.  Additionally this is around the time where Paul McCartney collaborated with Steve Miller and I for one could totally see Steve Miller cover this.

Get Back- The Beatles