In the Pocket with Mr. Solid
By John Lee
Happy new year to everyone! I had a wonderful Christmas that included a visit from my mother, which is always a marvelous gift.
Santa was also very good to me. I received the “Stax/Volt Singles - 1959 to 1968” box set. Ever since my trip to Memphis and visits to Soulsville U.S.A., and the Stax Museum of American Music, I’ve been thinking about picking up this great collection. And what a collection it is! This set has some of the greatest soul/R&B songs ever recorded! There are nine CDs and 244 songs in all. I have some of these songs in different places (the Atlantic R&B box, the Otis Redding box etc.), but now I have them gathered in one place.
All the well known greats are here like Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay” and “Respect," Sam and Dave’s best, including “Soothe Me” and “I Thank You," Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood," Carla Thomas’ “Gee Wiz," Booker T. and the MG's “Green Onions,” and Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog,” to scratch the surface. There are dozens of lesser known songs that I think of as classics like Eddie Floyd’s “Raise Your Hand” and Mable John’s “Your Takin' Up Another Man’s Place”, to name just a few. Mable John is the sister of the late, great Little Willie John, whose version of “Fever” is an R&B classic!
The very cool instrumental “Last Night” by The Mar-Keys is here, and “Soul Finger” by The Bar-Kays. The dynamic gospel inspired ballad “You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell is also included. William Bell is one hell of a singer. This inspiring collection has early Stax recordings of the incredible Johnnie Taylor, before his huge hits “Who’s Makin' Love” and “Cheaper To Keep Her.” Before super stardom, Stax studio musician, and one of the label’s hit song writers, Isaac Hayes, had a recording under the name Sir Isaac and the Do-Dads. Albert King’s killer sides from the legendary “Born Under A Bad Sign” sessions are here. The Staple Singers’ and Isaac Hayes’ mega hits came later than 1968, but this is a must for the R&B/soul fan. The great tunes just keep on coming! I am so glad Santa came by to give me a much needed soul vaccination.
I also received a fantastic book for Christmas, R. Crumb’s “Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country” with an introduction by the filmmaker Terry Zwigoff who directed the award winning documentary “Crumb.” This is a collection in book form of three trading card sets Crumb put out in the 1980’s called “Heroes of the Blues,” “Early Jazz Greats,” and “Pioneers of Country Music.” The color illustrations come with a bio of each musical artist by Stephen Calt, David Jasen and Richard Nevins - 108 illustrations in all. The book also comes with a 21-track CD of tunes by the likes of Skip James, “Dock” Boogs and “King” Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with Louis Armstrong to name a few. If you are a child of the sixties, a fan of American roots music, or you dig R. Crumb, this book is for you!
In October of 2006 I produced a show I called The West Coast Rhythm and Blues Summit. It featured Johnny Nocturne with Miss Dee and Henry Salvia, The 3J’s, and The Crossroads Band. It was an incredible amount of work, but worth it. I did a lot of the promotion and I played bass on all three sets both days. I am blessed to be associated with such a fine group of friends and talented musicians.
My high school era buddies, John Firmin and John Stephan, and I have a part time group, known as The 3 J’s. John Firmin is one of the finest R&B and jazz tenor saxophonists in the country. John Stephan is a very cool guitar man who leads his own band. He also plays damn fine rhythm. He writes great songs too! I met Henry Salvia and Miss Dee thru John Firmin (aka Johnny Nocturne). Henry Salvia is the keyboard player in the Johnny Nocturne Band. He is one of the best piano guys around. Henry attacks the keys in a style all his own. It’s a pleasure to play shows with this top notch cat. Miss Dee is one fine R&B/blues vocalist. She was the lead singer on The Johnny Nocturne Band CD “Blues Volume” and has worked with the legendary Johnny Otis. She’s a sweetheart and a first rate entertainer. I look forward to the day I can work with her again.
The group I play with on a regular basis, The Crossroads Band, gets it done! The Rev. Deborah Engelhardt of The Washington Blues Society said about Crossroads: “This band could hold its own alongside any band, anywhere.” I agree! The gentleman I boogie with day in and day out - Steve Bailey, Dennis Ellis, Dan Newton, and John Rockwell are consummate musicians and a gas to be around. And what’s up with Dennis Ellis not being on the WBS BB Award ballot for best horn? This I don’t understand. The R&B Summit was a gas. On Saturday night, we were SRO. I am blessed! Thanks to all that came to the show! Also, thanks to Ed Maloney and Steve Sarkowski at the Highway 99 Blues Club for helping to make it happen.
Late 2006, we lost two icons of American music: Ruth Brown and James Brown. At one time R&B meant Ruth Brown. A recording career that began in 1949 with five number one R&B hits from 1950 to 1954 including the pop chart entry, “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” John Stephan and Miss Dee have worked with her and both said she was the greatest on all accounts. Ruth Brown was 78. R.I.P.
James Brown’s nicknames “The Godfather of Soul” and “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” I think sum him up. He was an innovator of R&B, Soul and Funk. James Brown was one hell of a dancer too. They aren’t making anymore James Browns. He died on Christmas day 2006. He was 73. R.I.P.
Quote of the Month:
The sax player, Jr. Walker, who’s first hit was the great dance tune “Shotgun” said, “I travel. I blow some. People dance. And I like it!”
Electric bassist John "Mr. Solid" Lee was born in Alaska and has been active in the Seattle blues scene for about 30 years. He currently plays with the Crossroads Band. Photo by Mike Coyote.