"Grits ain't groceries, eggs ain't poultry and Mona Lisa was a man." The title track off Little Milton's 1969 record Grits Ain't Groceries was a huge hit and one of my earliest tastes of hard funkin' blues. He was discovered by Ike Turner (who also helped launch careers for Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Rush and, of course, Tina Turner). Despite the miniature nickname there was nothing "Little" about Milton's talent or stature. His father was already performing under the name Big Milton and Little seemed appropriate when twelve year old junior first picked up the blues guitar. Just one "little" listen to Grits and you'll agree, big blues come in Little Miltons.
Once you get beyond the campfire kitsch of "If I Had A Hammer" you'll discover that Trini Lopez was one groovy folker. "Sinner Not A Saint" immediately comes to mind, but lately I've been spinning this uplifting breakup single from 1966.
All this godforsaken summer heat has started influencing what music goes on my turntable. Look for more calypso, reggae and other breezy island songs in posts to come. In the meantime enjoy these two groovier examples from Mr.Trinidad Lopez.
"I Know You You Been Socking It To" is an overlooked single from The Isley Brothers 1969 LP It's Our Thing. The funk classic and it's supporting singles were all released on their homegrown record label, T-Neck. Having your own label isn't a big deal nowadays, but back then The Isleys were the first performing group to achieve that industry milestone. The whole album is chock-full of juicy funk nuggets. Some would even argue that "It's Your Thing" is actually one of the weaker album tracks. Whatever. It's your ear. Hear what you wanna hear.
Few people realize that "Piece Of My Heart" isn't a Janis Joplin original. Even fewer people realize that the song was first cut by Aretha Franklin's older sister, Erma. If Aretha was the queen of soul then Erma Franklin certainly held high court in the adjacent kingdom of it's northern relative . Both sisters are R&B royalty however, fans of Erma tend to align themselves more with the funkier side of northern soul.
There is an important interpretive difference between Erma's balladeering and Janis's rock-blues arrangement. When Franklin faces the breakup bullet her voice seems to persevere (barely) above the pain, but when Joplin takes that same shot she seems to sing the role of relationship martyr, ready to bear the abusive brunt from a neglectful partner. This distinction might be from approaching the source material from different genres, but you tell me. Listen to both versions below and see if you don't notice a telling difference between these two pieces of broken heart.
The only thing that could make Melvin Tormé's ultra-groovy "I'm Comin' Home Baby" even groovier is a 60's mod cover (dig that organ solo!) by the one and only Bulgarian bombshell Sylvie Vartan. This version is off her second LP Twiste Et Chante. The 1963 record consists mainly of pop heavy standards, but when they sound this fun who cares? Not me!
In 1968 ex-Volcanoes member, Gene Faith, left the promising soul quintet to pursue his solo career. "Family Man" was perhaps the finest release from that recording endeavor. Not only is the track spectacularly funky, but the label art is simply beautiful as well and a welcome addition to any collector's 45 box.
Say what you will about their tumultuous marriage, but whenever Ike & Tina took stage audiences were consistently blown away. Maybe their explosive live performances were fueled by cocaine induced domestic violence, but if Ike had never discovered Tina during a St. Louis open mic night (when Tina aka Little Ann was just sixteen) the world would never have experienced one of the most powerful voices in soul music.
"Bold Soul Sister" is their fiercest funk single from 1969's LP The Hunter. Enjoy!
I've always thought of Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson as the Sonny & Cher of funky soul. They scored a few minor hits in the late 60s but never managed to reach the popularity heights of other duos such as Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. After several singles and LPs the two disbanded in 1971.
"I Want To Love You Baby" (SSS International label) is my favorite 45 of theirs. Enjoy it in glorious monosound because that's how I roll!