“Do ya like good music? (Yeah, yeah!) / That sweet soul music (Yeah, yeah!)” “Sweet Soul Music,” Arthur Conley
SECRET STASH RECORDS SOUL REVUE, DAKOTA JAZZ CLUB, MINNEAPOLIS, MN, 5/4/13
Twin Citians were treated to a double shot of that sweet soul music recently, with the two-night Secret Stash Records Soul Revue at the Dakota Jazz Club, May 3rd and 4th, followed by the May 7th appearance of the late-blooming Charles Bradley at the Cedar Cultural Center. For fans of the genre, it was a nostalgic trip back in time to an era when Sam Cooke, James Brown, Otis Redding and the like were first bringing this style of music to a wider (i.e., whiter) audience.
Fledgling Minneapolis record label Secret Stash has made a name for itself among vinyl collectors by issuing a number of albums by various African, Asian and Latin American funk, groove and dance bands, as well as obscure American R & B artists like Mickey Murray. Last year, the label scored gold locally with the release of “Twin Cities Funk & Soul: Lost R & B Grooves From Minneapolis/St. Paul 1964 – 1979.” The collection of obscure tracks by forgotten Twin Cities funk and soul artists such as Prophets of Peace, The Valdons, and Wanda Davis has caused a sensation among music lovers in the sister cities and the record/CD release show at the Cedar Cultural Center last fall was a sold-out, smashing success.
Treading the fine line between maintaining the momentum of that first public performance, and not wearing out their welcome, the Secret Stash artists have carefully spaced out their subsequent appearances. The two-night stand at the Dakota was only the third such event so far in 2013, a pace that seems appropriate to maintain the public’s interest and guarantee strong ticket sales.
Maurice Jacox opened the show and quickly set the tone, both musically and sartorially. Still trim and handsome well into his 60’s, Maurice is best known locally for his work with the finest blues/funk/soul/R & B dance band to ever grace a Twin Cities barroom stage, the incomparable, Willie and The Bees. Maurice played baritone sax and flute in that legendary band, as well as singing lead and harmony. This night, it was all about the singing, as he left the instrumental work to the band, Resplendent in his royal blue jacket, glittery multi-colored vest, and eye-catching gold lame beret, Maurice opened with a couple of old faves from the Bees’ catalogue, “Honey From The Bee,” and “Shoot Straight.” The former pairs suggestive, double-entendre lyrics with a nasty funk groove, while “Shoot Straight” is a swinging r & b gem that would bring everyone off their bar stools and onto the dance floor back in the 70’s, when the Bees reigned supreme. Amazingly, Maurice hit the high notes on “Shoot Straight” effortlessly. Clearly, age has done nothing to diminish the man’s incredible range and power. He screamed, he shouted, he pleaded, begged and whispered, all in the course of the same song. We should all age so well.
After a couple more numbers, Maurice invited recent Twin Cities’ transplant Chastity Brown to the stage, for a duet of Sam & Dave’s classic, “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.” The addition of Ms. Brown to the revue was curious, as she is definitely not of the same generation as the rest of the Secret Stash artists, nor does her own music particularly call to mind comparisons to any soul artists. Nevertheless, she rose to the challenge of the Sam & Dave duet, matching Maurice’s improvisations on the song’s stirring chorus. She also did a fine job covering the two Wanda Davis cuts on the “Twin Cities Funk & Soul” album, “Take Care” and “Save Me.” In a departure from the evening’s tone, she also sang “If You Let Me” from her current solo CD, an homage to her Tennessee gospel roots.
Jackie Harris, the proprietor of the first black-owned radio station in the Twin Cities, was up next, with his funk workout, the awkwardly titled “Get Funky, Sweet A Little Bit.” Jackie’s live wire stage antics and the song’s chicken-scratching guitar line brought to mind the late Rufus Thomas, a mainstay of the Stax Records lineup in the 60’s.
After Jackie Harris’ star turn, The Valdons took the stage to the lively, horn-driven intro to “Stop! Wait A Minute Girl,” making everyone in the house wish they could push aside their tables and make room to dance. And, oh my, do those gentlemen know how to DRESS!
To this point, the evening’s music had largely been drawn from the grittier Memphis-style soul made famous by the Stax/Volt label, but The Valdons’ music combines elements of the high energy Motown sound (and fancy dance steps) of the Temptations and The Four Tops, and the smooth, sophisticated Philly soul of groups like The Delfonics. The four-part harmonies of The Valdons are still strong and sweet, 40 years after their heyday.
Following “Stop!” The Valdons did one more number, a searing cover of Ben E. King’s “I Who Have Nothing,” before the intermission, returning to open the second set with new matching dusty rose colored suits and another highly danceable original, “All Day Long.” “Love Me Or Leave Me” followed, a slow, passionate make up/break up tune showcasing the group’s Delfonics-like high falsetto harmonies. The Valdons exited and Maurice returned to the stage to tackle James Brown’s tortured love ballad “This Is A Man’s World.” Growling, howling and once again hitting those impossible high notes, Maurice’s version would have made The Godfather of Soul proud.
The bass player in the house band, former Prophet of Peace Anthony T. Scott, stepped out to cover Willie Walker’s “I Ain’t Gonna Cheat On You No More.” How thoughtful of you, Willie. Scott was joined by Sonny Knight of The Valdons for the funk workout “Do It To The Max,” another Prophets of Peace song. After the positive message song “You Can Be What You Want To Be,” and the somewhat hokey, lyrically clichéd “Get Your Head Together,” Maurice rejoined the group to sing the lead on Al Green’s “Tired Of Being Alone.” Finally, Chastity Brown came back to the now-crowded stage for the rousing hometown theme song, “Minneapolis, Minnesota,” featuring solos by each member of the 3-man horn section. Although somewhat embarrassing in its boosterism, “Minneapolis, Minnesota” is a song about pride, and Twin Citizens have a lot to be proud of, especially on this night, celebrating a small but significant part of the cities’ musical history.
CHARLES BRADLEY & HIS EXTRAORDINAIRES, CEDAR CULTURAL CENTER, MINNEAPOLIS, MN, 5/7/13.
It hasn’t been easy being Charles Bradley. Raised in Florida by his grandmother, his mother reentered his life when he was eight and took him to live with her in Brooklyn. He ran away from home while in his teens and lived on the streets. His brother was murdered, he nearly died from an allergic reaction to penicillin, and he scuffed around the country, working a series of odd jobs, mainly as a cook. And that’s just the Reader’s Digest condensed version.
A pivotal event occurred early during his years in New York, when his sister took him to the Apollo Theater to see James Brown. The performance made a lasting impression on him, and he eventually moonlighted as a James Brown tribute artist, working under the moniker Black Velvet. Gabriel Roth, impresario of Daptone Records and leader of The Dap Kings band, caught his act and invited Bradley to the Daptone studios to record some tracks. Bradley toured with Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings in 2008, including a memorable performance at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis that December. More recently, Charles Bradley’s life and hard times have been chronicled in the widely acclaimed 2012 documentary, “Soul Survivor,” which has introduced the man and his music to a much wider audience than he had ever dreamed of during his days doing James Brown covers.
And yet, there’s no question that the man owes a deep debt to the late great Godfather of Soul. From his singing style to his stage moves to his costume changes, Charles Bradley clearly lives in James Brown’s shadow. All of this was evident from the beginning of his recent appearance at the Cedar Cultural Center, with the Extraordinaires warming up the crowd with an instrumental medley, including a funk version of “Summer In The City.” Like a latter-day Danny Ray (JB’s emcee and “cape man”), the keyboardist stepped out to center stage to give a big rave-up introduction to “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” whipping the crowd to a frenzy as the man himself took the stage.
Bradley’s voice is a powerful instrument, raw and expressive, with steel-belted vocal cords that can withstand the strain of the many screams with which he punctuates his songs. Like his idol, subtlety is not his strong suit. Having only two albums to his credit, his set list naturally drew heavily on his current release, “Victim Of Love,” with which the audience at the Cedar seemed quite familiar.
After a stirring version of “Love Bug Blues,” from the new album, Bradley called out to the crowd, “How is my family?” a question that may have sounded hokey and clichéd coming from another performer, but came off as perfectly sincere from this hard luck survivor. Bradley took us to church with “How Long?” from his 2011 debut “No Time For Dreaming,” dropping to his knees a la JB, then shouldering the mike stand like Jesus carrying the cross. It was great showmanship and totally effective.
Switching gears to the more uptempo, R & B flavored, “You Put The Flame On It,” Bradley worked his dance moves from one side of the stage to the other, dropping down to do the splits at one point. Not bad for a 64-year old man! Bradley covered Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away” next, before slipping away himself for a costume change. The Extraordinaires kept pushing the tempo after he exited stage left, working into another instrumental interlude that included Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” Once again, Danny Ray – er, the keyboardist – stepped to center stage to re-introduce the star of the show, who took to the stage in an orange jump suit that, but for the gold trim and gold-embroidered screaming eagle on the back, had a disturbing prison inmate quality about it. No matter; it was no doubt quite comfortable and well suited to the splits, knee drops and kicks to come.
The title track to “No Time For Dreaming” gave way to the slow ballad, “Lovin’ You Baby” from the same album. Here, the lack of subtlety in his voice became apparent, as he seemed to have a harder time pulling off this quieter number. He picked up the pace with “Strictly Reserved For You” from the new album, featuring a nifty guitar solo by Tommy Bernard. “Confusion” followed, with its echo-ey vocal, fuzz guitar and – good grief, is that a THERAMIN?! – psychedelic sound, reminiscent of The Temptations during their “Ball Of Confusion” and “Cloud Nine” era. It was a jarring change of pace from the overall tone of the evening, and a questionable addition to the new record.
Matters returned to normal with the follow-up “Where Do We Go From Here?” and the pleading, heart-rending “Let Love Stand A Chance,” with Bradley repeating the refrain “All I’m asking / Just give love a chance” over and over again. With that, the set ended, the star and the band departed, and, after a lengthy applause-filled interval, out came the keyboardist again for yet another long-winded intro. Shouldn’t he be bringing out a cape or something, too?
Bradley took the stage this time in a striking gold lame waist coat, open necked wide collar shirt and brown slacks – very snazzy! The one-song encore was the title track to “Victim Of Love,” that included a lengthy, rambling soliloquy about loving one another, looking past our differences, and similar sentiments. Although it seemed tedious at the time, in retrospect, coming from a fellow who’s had a pretty difficult life, it’s admirable that he’s remained so positive and upbeat. While the band kept churning out the music, Bradley jumped off the stage and worked his way through the crowd, hugging and shaking hands with everyone as he moved along. It was a spontaneous and genuine show of affection by an artist for his audience and a fitting conclusion to the evening.