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”



Revisions: “A Change Is Gonna Come” Baby Huey and the Baby Sitters

There are a lot of reasons that Sam Cooke is still remembered, but there was no finer moment in his songwriting career than “A Change Is Gonna Come”, a song that became a watershed moment for the Civil Rights Movement.  Inspired in part by Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”, Cooke took to writing his own protest song, one that would be much more ambitious and striking.

Continue reading Revisions: “A Change Is Gonna Come” Baby Huey and the Baby Sitters

Quick Hits: “The Blues Never Die”, Otis Spann, 1965


As summer winds down and the humidity starts to stick in the way that only August knows how, I’ve been listening to a lot of Otis Spann’s The Blues Never Die record. It’s a perfect back porch LP, a sound that lulls in the background while the ice in your drink slowly melts as the sun beats on. “The Blues Never Die” has a nice hitched gait rhythm to it, a swagger with a slight drawl.

Spann made his name playing with Muddy Waters, and the whole outfit is largely present on this record, with some wonderful harmonica playing by James Cotton. Get the whole record if you have the chance, because there really isn’t a weak song on the album. Just some good simmering Chicago blues.


The Blues Never Die – Otis Spann

Snapshots: “Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)”, Curtis Live!, 1971


At the outset of the seventies, Curtis Mayfield became more than just the former co-leader of The Impressions with his first solo record Curtis, further cemented his success with Roots and would enter the soul and pop music stratosphere with Superfly.  But I consistently find myself going back to Curtis Live!, a record that largely came from a couple night performances in January 1971 at The Bitter End in New York City.

Perhaps it’s because this record is ostensibly his previous work’s polar opposite. Curtis Live! is remarkably lean and intimate, where the scope of Curtis and Roots were cinematic and lush affairs. In truth, Mayfield always possessed this melodic minimalism, hell, “Move On Up” is a treatise on the subject.  There are maybe a handful of great live soul records; Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, Donny Hathaway’s Live and this one, and part of the magic of listening to this visceral cut of an Impressions song is just how well the band swings it. The band had maybe played together for two days before the time of the recording and they’re about as tight as any band might hope to be.

“Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)” is a great introduction to the record, as the band works into the groove for the first thirty seconds before those backing vocals bring the song home.  Mayfield had written “Mighty Mighty” as social commentary in 1968, and he does a nice job integrating James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” in the middle of this version of the song. Also, those drums…that’s some serious pocket, and the drummer Tyrone McCullen deserves all the credit in the world.

Other favorites on this record are “We’re A Winner”, another reworked Impressions song, and “We’ve Only Just Begun”, which is a beautiful rendition of a Carpenters song.  I know, but Mayfield sings it with all the conviction in the world.

Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey) – Curtis Mayfield, Curtis Live!