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”