Monday, June 04, 2007
Disco Delivery #42:
Southern Exposure - Headin' South (1979, RCA)
Southern Exposure - Love Is
Southern Exposure - On Our Way
Southern Exposure - Headin' South
Southern Exposure - Tight Pants
I got this album a little over a year ago now, and if that cheesy, porny (of the cheap vintage variety, judging from that lighting) cover shot with that Amanda LePore-esque model and peeping-tom in the background didn't make me buy it, the producers behind this record - namely Toronto-based production team Three Hats Productions/THP (producers Ian Guenther, Willi Morrison and arranger Pete Pedersen) and DJ/Disco Mixer and "production associate" John Luongo certainly did. From the THP Orchestra epic "Two Hot For Love," to other productions like Grand Tour, Sticky Fingers, the Duncan Sisters (which I had covered around a year ago.. see Disco Delivery #23) and the more rock-oriented Skatt Bros.; Guenther, Morrison and Pedersen were behind some of my favourite Can-Con disco productions and really, some of my favourite disco, period. Although this project doesn't seem to come up quite as often as, say, THP Orchestra, Sticky Fingers or Grand Tour; this record, at least in my opinion, is one of their best.. From lush, orchestral disco manoeuvres to sublime sleaze and cheeky titillation, it manages to cover a good amount of ground despite being only four tracks long..
Although the album is excellent from start to finish, the one track which really stood out at the beginning was the Side Two opener, "Love Is".. Like a sister composition to "Two Hot For Love," it has a lighter touch, yet has those same trademark THP arrangements and that same epic orchestral feeling.. At around eleven minutes, it's also the longest track on the album, but with that layered production and brilliant melody, none of those eleven minutes goes to waste.. With a mix so rich and so dynamic, it's another one of those tracks where there's always something going on to engage the listeners' attention. If those strings don't grab hold of you, that airy floating synth refrain, the hard-hitting horn/percussion solo, or those bold basslines likely will. Put that together with the effect of the soft, yet minimal vocals of Jimmie Jamison and Elvin Bishop backup singer Debbie Cathey, which don't get in the way of the musical backing, yet perfectly colour the track's smooth airy sensuality; it's nothing short of a grand disco-style groove seduction.
One of my favourite things about this track is how those strings coupled with that gentle, airy synth carry the melody. The harmony of the two sounds, the synth and the floating elegance of those beautiful string arrangements; they way they gently weave through the all the changes and layers, emerging and re-emerging throughout the track; like subtle waves of discofied pleasure.. While melodically magnificent, there are also all the great breaks and dramatic changes throughout the track, namely those glorious buildups and climactic releases which keep an engaging, sort of dramatic tension throughout the whole thing. That intense guitar at 3.54 and the wonderful instrumental bridge at the five minute mark with the drums punctuating every blast of the horn section being a couple of my favourite peak points. The moment which tops it all off for me, however, is right at that final breakdown towards the end; right when that spare synth solo suddenly gives way to this grand, full orchestral sweep. It's a fairly subtle section, yet the result is absolutely brilliant.
That said, if anyone has heard this as well as THP Orchestra's "Two Hot For Love," the similarities between the two become almost inescapable. In fact, "Love Is" is practically a retread, not just stylistically, but musically speaking with some of same melodies in the string section and a very similar drum/horn driven instrumental bridge at the five minute mark. Still, however closely it may follow, with it's better vocals and dramatic changes, I actually tend to like this track just as much, if not more so sometimes than the 17 minute version of "Two Hot.." It's almost as if in doing this track, they were attempting a kind of new and improved interpretation of the same theme.. Either way, similarities notwithstanding, I'd still put this right up there as one of the grandest, most sublime THP compositions ever..
Another major standout on the record would be track two, "On Our Way." With that rich, glistening musical track, peppered with a bit of wah-wah, a sexy synth coloured with a full, though not overpowering harmonica (courtesy of arranger Pete Pedersen) and, of course, Debbie Cathey's superb vocal; this has to rank as another one of my favourite THP compositions.. With a brilliant opening verse: "dancing makes strangers friends..but what happens when the night ends.. " the song is further complimented by some truly excellent disco lyrics: "bodies can say so much.. language lies in a touch.. dancing uncovers two lovers by chance.. wanna dance?"
For me, the seductive, almost poignant elegance of this track with those great vocals, arrangements and lyrics make this not only one of their best efforts, but one of the best things they ever did in this slower style.. With it's easier pace; the romantic, slightly emotional lyric and delivery and overall seductive disco groove, it can probably be described as a great example of sleaze/morning music, that ever so intriguing of disco subgenres..
"On Our Way" and "Love Is" would appear on the lone 12" single off this record ("On Our Way" on the A-side and "Love Is" on the flip). As far as I know, neither got special mixes for the promo 12'', with both tracks appearing in their album versions..
As far as the rest of the album goes, one characteristic that ran through the other two album tracks as well as a lot (though by no means all) of Guenther/Morrison's other productions was this big, epic, almost bombastic Spector-esque pop sound to them, which was often paired with a definite orchestral and even big band influence. At least to me, it was those elements, often combined in a single track, which made many THP productions stand out so boldly. It's almost impossible to ignore a track like the Duncan Sisters' "Boys WIll Be Boys," or Sticky Fingers' "Wastin' My Love" calling out with those signature arrangements: horns blasting, propulsive percussion and just overall bigness bouncing out of the grooves. This album's title track, "Headin' South," opening with what I'm guessing is a multi-tracked guitar kicking into that gigantic, multi-layered hi-hat and orchestral intro, seemed to fit that stylistic element perfectly.. Not to mention those lyrics, well sung by Jamison and Cathey and laden with all sorts of coy double entendres, which just added another dimension of playful friskiness to the whole thing.
The other track in that same mould would be the album closer, "Hot Pants," which, as the title might suggest, is much less coy about it's subject matter. With verses like: "you starved to death and held your breath so you could dance in tight pants," it's definitely one of their more delightfully cheeky tracks. Although perhaps slightly cheesy as well, it's hard to resist a track as fun and playful as this one especially when complimented with such a full, irresistable arrangement to it, with that dynamite horn section and those quick syncopated drums giving the whole thing a bit of extra punch..
Despite their prolific output during the disco era and judging from the albums and singles I've heard so far, the quality and quantity of their releases (with a few notable exceptions) seemed to trail off somewhat towards the end and after the disco era.. One such example would be their foray further into the rock arena with a rather mediocre rock project entitled Emigré (1979, Attic). The following year in 1980, they would even produce an album for Toronto punk band The Diodes entitled "Action/Reaction" (1980, Orient/RCA), which I haven't heard yet but which certainly sounds intriguing, to say the least. Aside from that, they evidently still kept their stock in the dance music field, with some notable records like "The Ultimate Warlord" by The Immortals as well as some other notable 12'' singles on the UK Proto label, like one for Hi-NRG queen Hazell Dean and another for a project/group entitled American Fade, to name a couple. Both of those were also, interestingly enough, a couple of early productions for pop impresario Pete Waterman's PWL production company.
As far as their post-disco output is concerned, I'm guessing those singles might just be the tip of the iceberg, as there are probably others that either went unnoticed or have yet to be rediscovered, since new ones seem to resurface quite regluarly in my searches these days.. For one thing, a recent Discogs entry lists an obscure 12'' they produced for an Arlene Duncan entitled "I Wanna Groove" from 1982 released on what appears to be their own Toronto-based label, Wee Records, listed on the record as a division of their production company, Three Hats Productions, Inc.. No word on any other releases on that label or if Arlene bears any relation to The Duncan Sisters-Phyllis and Helen, or if perhaps she and Arlene Duncan the singer/actress (as seen on the CBC sitcom "Little Mosque on the Prairie," as Fatima) are one in the same..
Judging from his Discogs entry, later into the 1980's Morrison would eventually do more production work in the UK minus Ian Guenther, working with the likes of O'chi Brown and Lana Pellay to name a couple.. These days, based in the UK, Morrison is apparently still active in the music business, albeit in the more corporate side of things as Senior Creative Manager at Universal Music Publishing. Meanwhile, Ian Guenther is currently a faculty member at the Linden School, a private girls school in Toronto. Their affectionate reference to him in their faculty profile as "The King of Disco" practically gives it away.. According to another bio on their site, Guenther has apparently been a music instructor for both the private Linden School and the Toronto Public School Board for over ten years now.. The Linden School's Fall 2003 newsletter has a brief profile of Guenther and his more recent activities, in case anyone's interested..
Sadly, in 2002 THP arranger Pete Pedersen passed away in Memphis, Tennessee where he had been living since the 1980's. Pedersen was widely renowned in his own right not only as an arranger but evidently as one of the modern masters of the harmonica.. His partner and lyricist Jaine Rodack, with whom he wrote all the songs on this very record, recently wrote a book about his life entitled "Be of Good Cheer: Memories of Harmonica Legend Pete Pedersen." There are a couple of official tribute sites out there with some info on his bio and his musical history..
Unfortunately none of the tracks off this album, or even much of Guenther/Morrison's excellent disco output for that matter, have made it to CD yet. Regardless of that, out of their many productions and guises, this album certainly remains one of my favourites of theirs; from the covers, right down to the grooves...
PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #23: DUNCAN SISTERS (1979, RCA) (JUNE 25, 2006)
SOUTHERN EXPOSURE - HEADIN' SOUTH LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
SOUTHERN EXPOSURE - HEADIN' SOUTH LP @ DISCOGS
SOUTHERN EXPOSURE - ON OUR WAY/LOVE IS (PROMO 12") @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
SOUTHERN EXPOSURE - ON OUR WAY/LOVE IS (PROMO 12") @ DISCOGS
SOUTHERN EXPOSURE @ THE CANADIAN POP ENCYCLOPEDIA
WILLI MORRISON @ DISCOGS
IAN GUENTHER @ DISCOGS
PETE PEDERSEN @ DISCOGS
WILLI MORRISON @ SOUTH WEST SOUND 2007
IAN GUENTHER: PROFILE OF A FOUNDING TEACHER (LINDEN SCHOOL FALL 2003 NEWSLETTER)
PETE PEDERSEN - A MAN AND HIS HARMONICA
PETE PEDERSEN @ THE HARP-L MAILING LIST ARCHIVE (JANUARY 1995) (THREAD ONE | THREAD TWO)
CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, CAN-CON DISCO, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO..