Segarini: 13 Albums You Should Have But Probably Don’t Redux

If I didn’t know any better, I would say I am the victim of a Gypsy Curse.

Lately it seems that just walking down the hall has become an obstacle-laden course of Rube Goldberg slapstick and Orwellian conspiracy. Getting from Point A to Point B without slipping on a banana peel, having a piano fall on me, or tripping over my own two feet and landing in an Acme Wood Chipper has become totally impossible.

…and I’m not even chasing a road-runner.

I’m not sure if these LPs are even available on CD or for download, but if they are, seek them out and have a listen. They are, without exception, the jumping off points for entire long lasting careers and even genre changing sub-streams of musical exploration.

These albums not only engaged me when they were released, but continue to entertain and educate me now, decades later.

This column originally ran in 2009 and again in 2013, It has been updated since then.

The originally scheduled column, Bob’s 20 Influential Records (in which some of the following are included) will run at a later date.

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01. Ray Charles – At Newport: Of all the great R&B artists that have come down the pike, Ray Charles was the greatest musician, singer, songwriter of them all with Stevie Wonder a close second. Able to drift from blues, to standards, to country, to flat out big band soulfulness and rhythm and blues originality, he deserves and lives up to the sobriquet ‘Genius’. This album was the first one of his I bought, and like all the other albums on this list, there is not a bad track on it. The band is on fire from beginning to end, Ray plays sax as well as Hammond organ and piano, and the songs are just as powerful today as they were when he recorded them. The standout moment for me is when Margie Hendricks (one of the amazing Raelettes, Ray’s sequin gowned backup singers) comes in with the most powerful ‘Baby’s!’ in the history of recorded music in ‘Night Time is the Right Time.

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02. James Brown – At the Apollo Theater: Like Ray, James Brown was a one of a kind performer. Where Ray rocked back and forth and stayed in the same spot, there wasn’t a stage that could contain James Brown’s explosive energy. If a contemporary artist tried to dance and sing like this at the same time, they would probably run out of breath and moves halfway through the third song in their set. This album, after two that failed to do much in the charts, took Brown’s live show to the masses, and became the benchmark for all live recordings that followed.

In 1962, my friend Glen Gallup and I drove to Sacramento to see Ray Charles and James Brown at the old California State Fairgrounds. There must have been 1000 people or more there, and we were all dancing and having the time of our lives. This was after Ray had broken through with ‘What’d I Say’, but before James had released this album recorded live at the Apollo. Ray  Charles opened the show, even though he had sold more records. Even he knew that James Brown was impossible to follow. The tickets for the show were $2.50. Imagine that…

James Brown: Live at the Apollo Side A

James Brown: Live at the Apollo Side B

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03. Dave Brubeck – Time Out: My Freshman year Journalism teacher turned me onto this record when I was trying to sleep through his class at Stagg High. He would play it during class when we were working assignments. Most of the other kids thought he was punishing them, but I was so taken with the music that I just had to buy a copy. Living in a college town (the University of Pacific in Stockton is one of the most prestigious schools on the West Coast) there were a lot of jazz aficionados, especially for Brubeck, who went to school there and now has a college on UOP’s campus where at least one of his sons teaches. This album introduces so many musical concepts that were (and are) missing from rock and roll and other genres, that it is a primer in what is possible if you let yourself colour outside the lines. This is intelligent, thoughtful music played by artisans, and as adventurous as anything being done today. This is the full album, and the video will transport vinyl lovers to a time, place, and feeling that most kids today have been denied, complete with 12 inch vinyl, jacket, and liner notes….

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04. The Turtles – Present the Battle of the Bands: The Turtles had a great concept for this album. “What if”, they asked themselves, “we did an album where we became a bunch of different bands and played each song as a different group.” This album produced a huge hit with ‘Eleanor’, which contains the classic lines:

“Eleanor, gee I think you’re swell
And you really do me well
You’re my pride and joy, et cetera”

The rest of the album is a treat as well. The Turtles, specifically Howard and Mark, have always had a wicked sense of humour, and the pictures in the gatefold of the album alone are worth the purchuse. Different costumes and poses for every ‘band’ on the record, my favourite still being the Atomic Enchilada. It plays like a compilation album more than a record by a single artist, and shows the Turtles grasp of the different pop genres of the day.

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05. Asylum Choir – Look Inside the Asylum Choir: As mentioned in this column a while back, Leon Russell is one influential little cuss. This is one of his more obscure projects recorded with Marc Benno in 1969. Leon had a lot of success with producing and playing on records in L.A, and I think this was him pushing the limits as an exercise in what was possible musically and in the studio. Marc Benno, a singer/songwriter and guitar player from Dallas (Leon is a native Oklahoman) joined him in this endeavour and the result is one of the most interesting albums of the late 1960’s. Leon’s career is mind boggling seeing as how most people only know him through his association with Joe Cocker and from his solo work. Just check out this link to see how much he has contributed to popular music over the years.

Not a lot of people bought this album when it came out, but every musician in L.A had a copy. Another one of those records that musicians made for musicians. I can remember sitting around with a half a dozen people wrecked on tequila and hash listening to this record and wondering why Asylum Choir wasn’t the ‘Next Big Thing’.  This album is so much fun to listen to, and if you have ever heard it, you know that Leon and Marc can best be described as the Hillbilly Beatles with some Zappa thrown in for good measure. Sidenote: When I left L.A for EurekaCalifornia, Marc rented my house in L.A.

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06. Delaney and Bonnie and Friends – Accept No Substitute: I’ve been going on and on about this record, and these people, for years. This is, in my opinion, one of the most influential albums of the modern rock era. Just take a look at the line-up: Bonnie Bramlett, Delaney Bramlett, Leon Russell, Jerry McGee, Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Rita Coolidge, and Jim Keltner. Carl Radle, the bass player who started out with Leon Russell in Gary Lewis and the Playboys, went on to play with Eric Clapton for years, Derek and the Dominoes, and Joe Cocker, plus dozens and dozens of hit records. Bobby Whitlock, one of the keyboard players, played with Clapton and Cocker as well and co-wrote 6 of the songs on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. He has also written for Ray Charles, Sheryl Crow Tom Jones, and George Jones and sang backups on All Things Must Pass. Bobby Keys and Jim Price, sax and trumpet/trombone, went on to work with the Rolling Stones, something that Keys still does. That’s his solo on Brown Sugar. He’s also played with the Who and countless others. Price started out playing with Buddy Holly when he was 14, and went on to play with the Stones, Cocker, and others. Both are natives of Texas. Jim Keltner, an amazing drummer and one of the top session players in music has played on tons of hits and worked with almost everyone including all four Beatles. Rita Coolidge went on to a fine solo career and tours constantly still. This album so knocked out George Harrison that he got Delaney to sign to Apple even though the deal for the album was with Elektra. Jac Holzman voided the Apple contract but after a run-in with Delaney, released them from their Elektra contract. Songs on this album include collaborations with Mac (Dr. John) Rabbenack Mac Davis, former Cricket Jerry Allison, and Dan Penn and Chips Moman. Bonnie and Delaney contributed as well. An amazing record that helped shape the direction of rock music all the way through the ‘70’s. The Rolling Stones, more than any other artist other than Eric Clapton, were influenced mightily by this disc.

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07. Rita Coolidge – Rita Coolidge: I had never heard anyone sing with such ease and purity until I heard Reet. A beautiful and soulful voice, Rita is the daughter of a Minister and a cousin of Brenda Lee. She is my daughter Amy’s Godmother. Another artist that came from the Leon Russell/Bonnie and Delaney melting pot who went on to a great career. This was her first solo album, recorded at Sunset Sound in L.A with a who’s who of musicians. Rand Bishop and I were fortunate enough to sing backups on one track along with the Blackberries, Vanetta Fields, Clydie King, and Shirlie Matthews. Vanetta was a former Ikette, Clydie was a session singer that has backed everyone from the Stones to Bob Dylan and was a Raelette for 3 years. Shirlie was a singer, songwriter, and producer and worked with just about everybody at Motown in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.

We were all crammed into a vocal booth at Sunset with keyboard player Spooner Oldham. Spoon (among so many other accomplishments) played the organ on Percy Sledge’s ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’., Wilson Pickett’s ‘Mustang Sally’, and Aretha’s ‘I Never Loved A Man’. He also co-wrote ‘Cry Like A Baby’ for the Box Tops, and ‘I’m Your Puppet’ for James and Bobby Purify.

Anyway, Spoon is a character. He used to work in Muscle Shoals where there were only two studios. He’d get up in the morning and drive to one and then to the other if he had to find the session he was booked to play. Once, when we were rehearsing at Paramount for a show in L.A at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Spoon showed up 2 days into the rehearsals and fell asleep on his Wurlitzer piano. When Rita asked him where he’d been, he told her he’d been driving around L.A looking for the right studio. Unfortunately, there were a lot more than two.

He was in the booth with us to conduct us as to when to enter with the background vocals on ‘Crazy Love’. We did a pass and started recording. We layered the vocals and started to leave the booth. Someone noticed that Spoon had the jack to his headphones in his hands and she plugged them in just as the playback was starting. Spoon yelled, “Ya’ll can start singin’ now!” and everybody in the studio cracked up. Spoon had thought we were rehearsing in the booth because his phones weren’t plugged in.

This album is a joy to listen to start to finish. Just hearing people like Keltner, Duck Dunn, and Booker T (Rita’s brother in law at the time), is inspirational. The song, ‘Mud Island’, has a groove so mighty that the band played the ride out for 15 minutes till the tape ran out.

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08. Brothers Johnson – Lookout For #1: George and Louis Johnson’s first album is a revelation to fans of Larry Graham and other funkmeisters who are much better known than Lightning Licks (George) and Thunder Thumbs (Louis). They started out backing people like Bobby Womack, the Supremes, and Billy Preston, and worked for years with Quincy Jones, who used them on everything. Louis was the bass player on Thriller. This album is as funky as they get and deserves a much bigger rep than it has. The Brothers Johnson get it all said on this piece of vinyl, and the grooves are completely infectious. I defy you to keep still when these guys play. DEFY YOU!!!

 

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09. Spider John Koerner and Willy Murphy – Running, Jumping, Standing Still: If you like your blues music slightly deranged, this is the album for you. First described to me as ‘the folk/blues Sgt. Pepper’, it is much more than that. It is an album that borders on vaudeville and minstrel show, hootenanny and acid flashback. There is quite literally nothing like it out there. An early influence of Bob Dylan, Koerner was in a trio with Willie Murphy and Ray Glover, and had some success as a solo artist as well. The biggest player on this record, however, is the location it was recorded in.

Elektra Records had leased a property in the Feather River Canyon that was originally built for railroad employee’s vacations in the early 20’s or ‘30’s and had been sitting idle for years. It consisted of a main lodge and a dozen or so cabins not far from Keddie California, population 96.  The Elektra Rock Ranch (as it came to be known) was first home to what would have been Jackson Browne’s first album which was called Baby Browning, named after a headstone in a nearby cemetery. The album was never released. After Jackson left, Koerner, Murphy, and a couple of other musicians arrived, complete with two giant mastiff dogs and a couple of self proclaimed witches who also cooked meals for everyone and made fantastic cinnamon buns every morning from scratch. With people from the label and drop in friends of the musicians, the lodge became a recording studio and party palace par excellence. You can actually feel and hear the good time on this record. Some examples: One night Sanford (Sandy) Konikoff, the drummer, decided he didn’t like the chicken the witches cooked and threw a chicken leg at one of them. She threw one back. Then somebody else threw some potatoes and the fight was on. The resort was so isolated, cabin fever had set in. There was a lot of acid imported from L.A. Outside, the lodge was completely surrounded by neon tubing which, when turned on, cast a hot pink neon light around the whole place. It became a ritual to take acid when it snowed and turn on the neon light. One of the songs on the album, ‘The Red Palace’, was inspired by this activity. There was a sheet of paper taped to a wall in the third floor bathroom off of the big room where people would watch movies on a 16mm projector sent up from L.A every week, that listed who had given the clap or crabs to who. When Roxy followed Koerner and company into the Rock Ranch we also discovered a ghost in that bathroom that still creeps me out. One night one of the dogs downed a deer and dragged it back to the lodge. They had venison for a week. My favourite story about this album revolves around Sandy Konikoff. As a joke, he inserted a live drum mic up his butt and played his stomach with his hands on a track. The track is on the album, and Sandy is credited with playing the ‘sphincterphone’.

This album is as loopy as you can imagine and, in my opinion, an American Classic. When we (Roxy) arrived, the witches were still there. Fresh Cinnamon buns every morning…but the chicken still sucked. Such wonderful free, open, music. Like an aural Robert Crumb comic. Here’s a few ….

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10. James Taylor – That’s Why I’m Here: Except for the Mudslide Slim LP, I had never been a fan of James Taylor’s. I thought his folk stuff was okay, but it wasn’t until this, his 12th record, that I became a fan for life. I was driving on highway 12 in California when the title track came on. I had to pull off the little two lane back road highway because it affected me so deeply. A simple song told with personal anecdotes about why James played his music. It stunned me, and drove me back to writing music for the first time in 6 years. I also owe Taylor another thank you. It was his courage and strength that finally led to him to beating his long time heroin addiction after many failures to do so. Armed with the knowledge that you could actually kick a drug habit, followed his example and stopped my long time drug abuse. I am now 14 years drug free, and I owe a lot of that success to James Taylor and his music, and especially, the title track of this album. Of all the artists out there, James is the one I would most like to meet, have dinner, and shoot the shit with. I think James Taylor gets a bum rap from a lot of rock fans, but his talent is worth investing some time to get to know how good his music is. Start with this one and work your way up to the present. You won’t be sorry.

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11. Linda Ronstadt – What’s New: This album is the work of Linda and the incredible Nelson Riddle, who surpasses even his work with Sinatra on this and the two albums that followed. As Michael Buble is currently proving, these songs are called ‘standards’ because that is what they are. They just don’t write ‘em like this anymore. Ronstadt actually had to fight with her label to do this record. They didn’t want to do it and thought she would torpedo her career with it. Rock fans hated it, and even Saturday Night Live took it upon themselves to make fun of the effort. Linda had the last laugh.

Every song, every arrangement on this record are jewels in the crowns of the great American songwriters. This is not nostalgia or a career changer like Rod Stewart’s recent attempt. This is a gifted singer, and savvy producer, and an incredible arranger bringing the best out of already brilliant material. I wonder which contemporary songs will find new life time and time again over a 70 or 80 year period like these songs have. ‘What’s New’ and the other two albums in this trilogy, ‘Lush Life’, and ‘For Sentimental Reasons’, are available in a boxed set called ‘Round Midnight’. Find it if you can.

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12. Fourplay – Between the Sheets: Why so many people deride ‘smooth jazz’ is beyond me. I’ll give you John Tesh and Kenny G, they do fit the description of soulless, characterless automatons with learned skills but little else, but there are some amazing players and writers out there that deserve your respect. This group contains my all time favourite players I would love to sing with. Their taste and feel is without peer, and the rhythm section of Harvey Mason and Nathan East is tighter than Chuck Norris’s fist. Bob James, one of the tastiest keyboard players out there, and Lee Ritenour both have technique, feel, soul, and taste in an abundance that is downright eerie. When I tell people that my favourite guitar players are Lee Ritenour, James Taylor, Jeff Beck, and Johnny V, they look at me like I’m two Beatles short of a Reunion, but honestly, those four players are unique, but could easily play any kind of music they were asked to. The first four albums by this group are highly recommended and I had a great deal of trouble trying to pick just one, but this one contains so many great tracks it won out. Aiding and abetting the band are Chaka Khan, Phillip Bailey and Phil Perry, and the title cut was written by the Isley Brothers. For some reason, their music instantly transports me to Northern California, warm breezes and a top down cruise through wine country or down the Pacific Coast Highway, Carmel, and Monterey. I don’t know if that’s because it is actually that location it represents to me, or if it just puts me in a happy place. You owe it to yourselves to see if they can help you find your happy place. It isn’t the kind of music that you want to crank up at a party of get nostalgic about, but for the aural equivalent of warmth, comfort, and open spaces, it is heaven. It also makes for some damn fine make out music.

And this favourite….

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13. Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel: When I was out in California for a while when my Mother was recuperating from an accident and a stroke, I found a radio station from the Bay Area called KMEL. They played an eclectic mix of rock, rap, and whatever else struck their fancy. I was driving up Pacific Avenue on the way a liquor store when a track from this album came on the radio following the Beatles ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’. It was 1989 and this album was already a year old, but it was new to me. This was Bobby’s second solo album after leaving the New Edition and it proved to be full of hits. I wore out a Laser Disc, a CD, and a cassette of this record because the music was so fresh and the songs were so well written. A combination of old school R&B and new-jack edge, and the songs were (and are) as good as R&B gets. I think the thing that sold me on it most of all was the confidence of Brown, and the delivery of this material. Had it not been for the drugs, arrogance, missteps and bad decisions, I think he would have been one of the greats. I hear he’s playing clubs and getting back on his feet, and that’s good, because I’m sure he could bring more to the table if he gets the chance. Regardless, this album is a testament to his talent, and still makes me groove. Find the Re-mix CD if you can…killer.

One more….

Oh, hell…one more….

3 Responses to “Segarini: 13 Albums You Should Have But Probably Don’t Redux”

  1. Damon Hines Says:

    Another keeper, my liege! Ave, ave, Slam I jam.

  2. Thank you, Damon. Much appreciated.
    Be well and stay safe.

  3. Loved this blog Bob! Asylum Choir. Love that LP. Still have some of these in my collection. Will definitely give a listen to those I’ve never heard. Thanks for keeping the music alive! Ron….another Stocktonian.

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