Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vintage Articles:
Sean Lawrence's Discaire Column -
Supply Without Demand // Christopher Street - May 1979

Recently, while doing a bit of research, I had come across some old issues of Christopher Street - a long defunct gay magazine published from 1976-1995, often referred to as "The Gay New Yorker" in its time. Finding out about Christopher Street for the first time felt, quite honestly, like uncovering a treasure. While perhaps quite a bit more highbrow and New York-centric next to other gay offerings on the newsstands of its day (and certainly compared to what exists now), I'd have to rank Christopher Street, at least what I've seen from this period, as easily one of the best gay magazines that I've read. While the quantity and accessibility of information available online can compensate somewhat for the beleaguered state of print media these days, reading something like Christopher Street, one can't help but feel a touch of nostalgia for a time when something as culturally literate and intelligent as Christopher Street had a solid place in newsstands and in gay culture at large.

Being the sophisticated cultural arbiter that it was, aside from covering society, politics, literature and the arts; given the times and their audience, that usually meant that the topic of disco was weaved into their general coverage fairly regularly (record labels pushing their disco product were some of their biggest advertisers at the time, which probably helped too). One column that stood out in that regard was Sean Lawrence's Discaire, which debuted in May of 1979 as their "on the disco scene" column. It was never really 100% exclusively disco and not so much a look at the 'scene' as much as a record review column, and quite honestly, I wasn't even really familiar with the term 'Discaire' before this, (a slightly disused term for a DJ, or anyone who plays, selects and comments on music) but unfortunately given its timing, the column would be relatively short-lived. Debuting right around the time of the great disco backlash in America (which the column would at times make reference to), Discaire would run, barring a couple of issues, from May 1979, until February 1980.


While Christopher Street had carried record reviews before this, Discaire came across as a much more personalized take on things than your standard record review column. Although Sean Lawrence was not nearly as prolific as, say, Vince Aletti; armed with sharp prose that was generally clever and witty without being merciless; given that he came with a well-cultivated gay sensibility (obviously) and knew his way around disco - even if I didn't always share his opinions, they're always a pleasure to read. While Lawrence is hardly breathless and uncritical about disco (as the title of this very installment proves), I have to admit how refreshing it is to find record reviews from this time, and specifically coverage of disco that isn't loaded with the usual (dare I say - straight white male) rock critic biases, where even a positive disco review usually has the writer twisting themselves into some sort of awkward, apologetic stance just for doing so.

Anyway, for now, here's the first Discaire column, Supply Without Demand - pans for Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight, praises for Johnny Mathis, Montreal's Alma Faye Brooks and Ferrara, among others..


____________________________________________




Supply Without Demand 

Sean Lawrence
Discaire
B Songs reveal more than we want to know about the record industry: they sound as if the company needed more product, or the artist needed more money, or the disco/radio station needed more anything to play. When B songs appear on the albums of performers we like and whose work we have followed, they spoil the neighborhood. What, we wonder, can the performer have been thinking when the decision was made to record that junk? And who really made the decision?

         Let's talk about Patti Labelle.

         To those of us who have trekked with the hordes of urban renaissance gays and Bloomingdale's blacks to just about every concert Patti Labelle has given in the New York metropolitan area, her new album, It's Alright With Me (Epic JE 35772), is at once a delight and a disappointment. “Music Is My Way Of Life” is a disco upper if ever there was one, with a full, unstoppered sound of happiness. It's the kind of song that moves swarms of people to rush Labelle on stage when she sings it at the end of a concert – and it almost carries this album. But someone has surrounded this gem with B dross and should be charged with artist abuse.

         Another performer who deserves better packaging is Gladys Knight, and she'd better get it soon. Waiting for an A song on Gladys Knight (Columbia JC 35704) is like waiting for Godot. Knight's efforts on Buddah (Miss Gladys Knight [BDS 5714] and The One and Only ... Gladys Knight & the Pips [BDS 5701]) at least had bonbons such as “I'm Still Caught Up With You” and “It's A Better Than Good Time” (which had a nifty retro-disco quality). Yes, there is life after the Pips, but not much. Like Linda Ronstadt, Gladys Knight is best when she sings about lost or remembered love. Gladys Knight is a collection of mediocre songs that neither departs from nor enhances this terrain, and a waste of time for such a gifted performer. Knight herself is listed, with Jack Gold, as co-producer; insofar as she may be responsible for the selection of material on this album, she deserves a better producer.

         Jack Gold, on the other hand, can't be faulted for his work on Johnny Mathis's new release, The Best Days of My Life (Columbia JC 35649). This is a surprisingly fine album, including the now requisite disco hit (“Begin the Beguine”) and the predictable heterosexual duet (“The Last Time I Felt Like This” from the film Same Time Next Year, sung with Jane Olivor and not awful at all). The rest of the songs on the album are smarter and more authentically moving than the stuff Mathis sings on the Tonight Show just before Johnny Carson starts asking him about his love life.


On the heavy disco scene, “Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)” (Arista SP-38) is an elegantly mellow hit containing disco roller-skating rhythms (they skated to it at Manhattan's Twelve West at the opening of the Disco Convention) that some people have been adapting to non-roller-skating dancing. Although disco roller-skating is not the hottest thing to hit the gay community since typhoid, it seems apparent that Arista Records is serious about trying to get its share of the disco market.

         Whereas “Disco Nights” embodies Andrew Holleran's definition of “light disco,” Madleen Kane's “Forbidden Love” (Warner Bros. 8772) marks the entrance onto the scene of Erotic Funeral Disco. It's about time that intercourse had a new song. (“Hold Your Horses” by First Choice is already worn from play.) “Forbidden Love” is full of dark sexual exhortations that will surely make it the national anthem in the darker corners of the baths. It even smells like poppers.

         From the “Why Not?” Department comes a new disco album based on a Victorian novel, and produced by John Ferrara, Wuthering Heights (Midsong International 0798) is one of the more inspired of the recent disco releases. Three acts on its title side build to a danceable frenzy with the same kind of fervor and calculation we remember of Donna Summer's classic Love Trilogy album. How, you ask, can an album be based on Wuthering Heights? Just keep singing “Heathcliff” over and over, with lots of strings, congas, and orchestra bells in the background. Can War and Peace be far behind?


Two of the latest releases from Casablanca, the mogul disco label, introduce new performers. Alma Faye's Doin' It! (NBLP 7143) indicates that she has promise as a disco diva (we've heard her touted as the Aretha Franklin of disco). On “Don't Fall In Love” her voice overwhelms the normally pushy instrumental, thus breaking new ground for disco. One of the songs even proves that disco is ecology-minded - “It's Over” sounds like a recycled “I'm A Victim of the Very Songs I Sing.”

         Dennis Parker's Like An Eagle (NBLP 7140), produced by Jacques Morali, sounds like a California album about New York. One of its longer cuts (“New York By Night”) contains references to tricking, hustling on 53rd and Third, dancing at Studio 54, and eating gossip at Elaine's, but sounds as if it's being remembered from inside a soundproof limo cruising an L.A. Freeway. Parker is clone-attractive and has been packaged for disco j.o.

         And...

         Now that everyone is coming to the realization that “Disco Saves” (careers, homes, marriages), Paul McCartney has turned to it for salvation. Too bad. His “Goodbye Tonight” [sic] (Columbia 23-01940) is the disco turkey of the year. It makes us look forward to Ethel Merman's “conversion” ■
____________________________________________

LINKS:
wikipedia: christopher street (magazine)
facebook: newmanology - christopher street magazine
arbery books: christopher street back issues
ephemera forever: christopher street

discogs: patti labelle - it's alright with me lp
discogs: gladys knight - s/t lp
discogs: johnny mathis - the best days of my life lp
discogs: gq - disco nights (rock-freak) 12"
discomusic.com: gq - disco nights (rock-freak) 12"
discogs: madleen kane - forbidden love 12"
discomusic.com: madleen kane - forbidden love 12''
discogs: ferrara - wuthering heights lp
discogs: alma faye - doin' it! (us lp)
discogs: dennis parker - like an eagle lp
discomusic.com: dennis parker - like an eagle lp
discogs: wings - goodnight tonight 12"
discomusic.com: wings - goodnight tonight 12"


CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES

Friday, February 21, 2014

Vol la nuit


Recently obtained this dreamy little bit of early 80's bilingual Can-Con, and have been giving this one quite a few spins lately. Produced by a one Frank Ceniccola, whose name I haven't seen anywhere else (aside from the only other France Harlow entry on Discogs), and sung and adapted in both official languages by France Harlow AKA Francine Thibeault, in a slightly idiosyncratic, unaffected vocal style; as far as I'm concerned, its got all the good things about that early 80's Montreal synthy (post-) disco sound that I love (plus some lovely label art, too).

Listen: France Harlow - Vol la nuit (French Version) (1983, Illusion)
Listen: France Harlow - Dance The Night (English Version) (1983, Illusion)

The synthesized backing never crosses into gimmicky overkill, and in a greater feat, neither does the added saxophone, which is deployed rather tastefully on both sides. While the lady herself has made her presence known on the lone youtube posting of this record, hitting back at one critic of her vocal abilities, I do have to say that I actually quite like the fact that the lady's voice is just a little bit rough around the edges here. She almost sounds like a punk/new-wave refugee, with a slightly hesitant deadpan which gives way to little flickery moments of sincerity every now and then. Or maybe she was just an amateur. Either way, a lot of Montreal productions from this time aren't necessarily regarded for their big-budget, hi-gloss finesse, as I've mentioned before. At times there's a bit of a shoestring quality that comes through, which, when done right (as it is here), actually works in its favour.

While I ripped both sides of this single at the proper speed, I personally like playing this one slightly slowed down, for extra dreaminess.

LINKS:
discogs: france harlow - vol la nuit/dance the night 12''
discogs: france harlow
discogs: frank ceniccola
youtube: francine thibeault

CATEGORIES: CAN-CON DISCO, MINI DELIVERIES

Unreleased Candido Acetate Versions


Somewhat overdue, but just to add on to the previous post - a bit more about the recent unofficial repressing of a rare acetate of two songs - "Thousand Finger Man" and "Dancin' & Prancin" from Candido's 1979 Salsoul album.

As far as I know, these were very limited pressings, only available at Juno and Rush Hour, starting sometime around November/December. Initially said to have been a limited pressing of only 300 copies (which included a little info-sheet with a scan of the original acetate), it appears a second run was issued towards the end of 2013 after the first pressings sold out (minus the info sheet and where my copy appears to be from).

Granted, the sound quality is far from perfect - after all, it is a re-pressing, and a re-pressing of an acetate, no less; however beyond sound quality, the recordings themselves seem quite a bit better than demo quality. According to the info sheet, there are no mixing credits given on the original acetate, so these appear to have been early versions of these songs, before they were further mixed/polished up for the album.

Listen: Candido - Thousand Finger Man (Unreleased Version)
Listen: Candido - Dancin & Prancin' (Unreleased Version)

Both versions appear to have been subjected to a few more disco conventions for the album, (ie. added breakdowns towards the last portion of both songs), toning down some of the jazz/improvisational elements (note that distinct recurring sax solo in "Dancin' & Prancin'," later relegated to the fade-out on the LP). While the differences between the acetate and album versions of "Thousand Finger Man" are fairly subtle - a more elaborated breakdown in at the beginning, but missing the percussion break towards the middle, "Dancin' & Prancin'," on the other hand feels quite a bit brighter and bolder here. With the aforementioned recurring sax solos and that extra prominent bass after the 5 minute mark, the acetate version feels both jazzier and funkier than the LP version. As per the album, produced by Joe Cain and arranged by Louis Small (more on them in the previous post), with Norman Durham (bass) and Woody Cunningham (drums) backing Candido - one can definitely hear more than a few shades of the sound Cunningham and Durham (and Louis Small) would craft on their debut album as Kleeer not long after.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
liner notes: candido - dancin' & prancin' (1979, salsoul / 2012, big break/cherry red) (friday february 7, 2014)

LINKS:
juno records: candido - the unreleased versions
rush hour: candido - the unreleased versions
discogs: candido - thousand finger man / dancin' & prancin' (unreleased versions)
secret rendezvous: candido acetate - unreleased versions of 'thousand finger man' and 'dancin' and prancin' ' (monday november 11, 2013)
discogs: candido - dancin' and prancin' lp
facebook: candido camero fans
discogs: joe cain
discogs: louis small
discogs: woody cunningham
discogs: norman durham

CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES

Friday, February 07, 2014

Liner Notes:
Candido - Dancin' & Prancin' (1979, Salsoul /
2012, BBR/Cherry Red)

Although this is my first post on one of my liner note projects, this actually wasn't my first liner note assignment, those would be a couple of France Joli reissues on the Gold Legion label in 2011 (more on that in a future post). My latest, for the "Patrick Adams Presents Phreek" (1978, Atlantic) album reissued on BBR was released just this week, however, I'm starting here because this is the first one that I've actually been compensated for (thank you, good people at BBR/Cherry Red!) and one that overall, despite some twists and turns along the way, that I was fairly happy with..

When this album was offered to me, I was more than willing to take the assignment, as this was one record that had been a favourite of mine, ever since hearing it some eleven years earlier. Unlike quite a few disco albums that I love, this wasn't one that I had discovered through a record store, but from an early online purchase as a teenager, and still a few years before I was able to obtain a credit card (money orders were still cheap then, as I recall). I had little idea what to expect when I bought this, aside from the fact that it was described as a CD reissue of a genuine Salsoul album (released on the Charly label in the UK), which was more than enough for me.

After listening to it, even without having a great deal of context on this album, it had struck me as one of the more intriguing disco records I had heard up until that point. I had no idea how significant Candido Camero was as a percussionist, often mentioned alongside Afro-Cuban legends like Chano Pozo and Mongo Santamaria, and how upon coming to America, he would play with just about anybody that was anybody in the jazz world. Nor did I realize how much of a staple "Jingo" had become and how often it had been covered and remixed thoughout the years. At the time, this was the first album I'd bought where it wasn't a singer, or a producer, but a percussionist that was getting top billing. As unorthodox as it may have seemed to me, this album sounded nothing like a commercial shotgun marriage that the times or the situation may have suggested, but one that actually came with a deep, even elemental disco sound that not only recalled the genre's roots, but at times ended up sounding oddly contemporary in ways that I hadn't quite expected, twenty some years after its release.


Candido - Thousand Finger Man
Uploaded by tkind1

Fast-forward eleven years later, as soon as I started researching for this essay, a few roadblocks. First, the licensors stipulated that any interviews with the artist or any persons involved with the recording had to be approved by them first; second, none was forthcoming; third: even if I did get approval, as it turned out, quite a few of the key personnel were no longer around to be interviewed anyway. These days, whether because of the squeeze on the CD market, or in spite of it, the standards for reissues are generally a fair bit higher today than they had ever been, and that's more often than not reflected in the liner essays on many of the BBR reissues in particular, where input from the principals has become if not essential, often expected. That said, time was ticking and I'd have to do without any outside quotes if I were to ever finish this. As it turned out, that was okay, since that had me trying to compensate in other ways, which, in part, had me delving into the Latin side of the Salsoul enterprise a lot more than I had expected to.

Starting with The Cayre Brothers' Caytronics label (essentially, Salsoul's parent company) where they began licensing Latin music from major labels in Latin America and Europe for release in the US, to what they did with Salsoul, one can't help but admire the Cayre Brothers and their entrepreneurial skill. At a time when major labels in the US paid little attention to the Latin market, to today, when such a thing as the Latin Grammys exist; one could say that the Cayres were one of the pioneers in seeing the potential of Latin music in America and from there in seeing the potential of Disco with Salsoul, which I'm sure, still pays handsome dividends today.

One of the major thrusts of my liner essay was that this album was ultimately one of the last to fulfill the original promise of the Salsoul label, that marriage of Salsa and Soul, of Latin music and Black music that had informed a lot of its early successes with Joe Bataan and The Salsoul Orchestra, one that was foundational to disco in America.. As it turns out, this wasn't lost on Salsoul themselves, as a June 1979 article in Billboard (basically a promo for this record) entitled "Salsoul Back to Mix of Hispanic and Black Musics" had indicated.

Going back to my third roadblock, if I had done this just over a year or two prior, I would have probably been able to talk to Woody Cunningham and Norman Durham both of Kleeer, who had both since passed away (in 2010 and 2011, respectively), and who practically, along with Candido himself, made up the core of this album's rhythm section.

Another person I'd hoped to make contact with was the album's producer Joe Cain. Writer David Carp had published a profile on Joe Cain for Descarga.com in 1999, which is easily the most comprehensive article on the man's work that I've read anywhere. And while it was over a decade old, providing that the email address still worked, I hoped he'd be able to provide a lead in case I did get permission. While I was able to contact David Carp, sadly he would inform me that Joe Cain had passed away some 8-9 years earlier, so unfortunately that too was also out of the question. As it was, Carp's article on Joe Cain provided plenty of background information that I was able to use for this.




Candido - Hands of Fire (Manos de fuego) (Documentary)
Uploaded by MVDmusicvideo
 

While Candido Camero himself is still alive and if one can believe it, still performing occasionally at the age of 92; whether or not he would have been willing to talk to me for this, I would have loved to have had the opportunity. Again, I didn't have permission, so unfortunately I'd have to go without his words also. In the absence of quotes from the man himself, I ended up turning to Ivan Acosta's 2005 documentary - "Hands of Fire" (see above) which is fully viewable online, and easily the definitive exploration of Candido's life and work out there today. Needless to say, this too proved absolutely invaluable to me.

Candido with Salsoul's Ken Cayre
(photo: Doug Young, courtesy: Brian Chin)
Although people involved with the record were off limits, one person that I did end up going to was music writer/historian Brian Chin, who had written for Record World and Billboard in the past and who has also authored quite a number of liner note essays over the years. He ended up providing some key insight into the Afro-Cuban influence in disco and the brief history of remixer/DJ David Rodriguez, Jr. who did the mix for "Jingo". As well, a few months after submitting my essay, Brian took out his copy of the album, a test pressing in which he had found an accompanying press photo - a little-seen shot of Candido with Ken Cayre, taken when he signed his Salsoul contract. Brian generously sent me a scan for it to be included in the reissue. I wasn't sure whether it would make it under the wire, but thankfully it did and has been reprinted on the first page of the booklet, so massive thanks to Brian for his help and generosity here..


Corrections/Clarifications:

There were other percussionists who dabbled in Disco at the time, like Willie Bobo and Candido's old friend Mongo Santamaria, to name a couple of peers that I mentioned in the liner notes. I was perhaps stretching things when I mentioned that "no one had really placed a percussionist like Candido into a full length disco setting before," in which I meant to say that neither of those two recorded full disco albums centered around their percussion quite like this one that Candido did. Unfortunately, I had neglected to mention two other big ones who did. Although not necessarily of the same Afro-Cuban tradition, there was King Errisson and his 1977 "L.A. Bound" album with Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, and Ralph MacDonald, whose "Calypso Breakdown" was on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I suppose one could split hairs and say that perhaps Errisson's album was centred more around him as a singer, rather than a percussionist, and that MacDonald's 1979 album "Counterpoint" wasn't entirely disco focused, but in my case, it was an omission that I should have addressed.

Also, at one point I talk about the arranger on the bulk of this album, Louis Small, who had also worked on Kleeer's records and albums by Sylvester and Inner Life. I had mentioned at one point, that he was "bringing his broad experience across both Latin and Disco fields to the proceedings." Unfortunately, I got this one somewhat backwards. This album pre-dated his work with Inner Life and Sylvester and possibly also Kleeer. Whether this album is what lead to him working on those disco projects, I wasn't able to figure out either, but this was one other thing I should have caught earlier..

Liner notes aside, as far as the music is concerned, a couple of super rare acetate versions of "Thousand Finger Man" and "Dancin and Prancin'" had surfaced just late last year. While these had been re-pressed (unofficially, of course) on vinyl, I only wish these had come out earlier, so maybe someone would have been able to find the tapes and possibly include them on this reissue. Finding tapes would have probably been a long-shot in itself, but perhaps something to flag in case of any future reissues (to add to all the others, see Competing Reissues, below).

Candi's Funk, the follow-up album:

Listening to Candido's follow-up Salsoul record, "Candi's Funk," I couldn't help but feel like that record was a major drop in quality from this album, which had me wondering if maybe that was just an album comprised of this record's throwaways. One other thing that made me wonder about that, was that on this album, three of the four tracks were arranged by Louis Small, with only one track, the last one - "Rock and Shuffle (A-Ha)" arranged by Carlos Franzetti. On "Candi's Funk," Franzetti was the arranger on all the tracks. I thought perhaps Candido and Joe Cain maybe did a series of sessions with both arrangers, with the best cuts selected for this record and the leftovers cobbled together later for "Candi's Funk." Given that I wasn't able to talk to any personnel to confirm my suspicions, I didn't bother mentioning this in the liner essay, but it remains a hunch, so am putting it out there anyway..

Competing Reissues:

I should also say that this isn't the first time this album has been reissued on CD. Aside from the Charly reissue from the mid 90s that I mentioned earlier, there was the Candido Salsoul Anthology released in 2005 back when Suss'd Records in the UK did their own Salsoul relaunch which included all the tracks from this album. Unidisc here in Canada reissued this album a few years later when they were putting out a number of Salsoul albums. Also, more recently, the Octave Lab label in Japan put out their own reissue, as part of their own Salsoul reissue program which they've been doing seemingly right alongside BBRs reissue program. I don't have the recent Japanese Octave Lab reissues, so I can't speak to its quality, but going back to what I mentioned at the beginning of the post though, it's a pretty accurate reflection of the state of disco reissues today, where there are not only a large number of albums surfacing or re-surfacing on CD, but are even given competing reissues in different territories (hence, why they aren't officially 'competing,' but with a great deal of reissue/catalogue album purchases done online, who is anyone kidding?)

Looking at and listening to this BBR reissue though, the attention to detail that they've consistently put into the presentation of their releases sets the bar pretty high among reissue labels and to my ears, this is probably the best that this album has ever sounded. So take that for what it's worth.. Either way, I'm glad to have played a small part in helping keep this record out there for everyone to enjoy.

PURCHASE:

candido - dancin' & prancin (remastered cd) (1979, salsoul / 2012, big break/cherry red)
amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | dusty groove | big break records

latin jazz u.s.a. presents: candido - hands of fire (manos de fuego) (documentary dvd)
amazon.com | descarga.com | mvd entertainment group

LINKS:
facebook: big break records
facebook: candido camero fans
discogs: candido - dancin' and prancin' lp
big break records: candido - dancin' and prancin'
google books: billboard - salsoul back to mix of hispanic and black musics (june 16, 1979)
drum! - drumming for fanatics: candido: the father of modern conga drumming (by bobby sanabria)
descarga.com - meet joe cain (by david carp) (april 29, 1999)
discogs: joe cain
discogs: louis small
discogs: carlos franzetti
soultracks: kleeer's woody cunningham dies (january 10, 2010)
discogs: woody cunningham
soultracks: kleeer bassist norman durham dies (november 4, 2011)
discogs: norman durham

CATEGORIES: LINER NOTES

Monday, February 03, 2014

Disco Delivery Liner Notes


In the last two/three years or so, one of the little spin-offs that has come about, largely through this blog, has been in writing liner note essays for disco CD reissues. Despite what has been said about the demise of the CD; the market, or at least the activity around disco reissues seems like it has never been more fruitful than in these last several years. Those of you who've been following the Disco Discharge/Recharge series on Harmless and labels like Funkytown Grooves, Big Break Records/Cherry Red or Gold Legion can probably attest to that.

I have to thank writer and PopMatters contributing editor Christian John Wikane firstly, for approaching me and giving me the opportunity to add my words to these reissues and help document the stories around these records. While I haven't worked on a large quantity of releases so far, it has provided some wonderful opportunities not just in giving context to these records, but also in getting to speak to some of the people - the artists, producers and singers behind the material in a way that I wouldn't have imagined just several years ago.

That being said, I figured the blog would be the ideal place to document some of that work, and without reprinting the essays in full (at least not while the releases are in print), at least give some background to them and a perhaps little bit of promotion at the same time. There is, compared to what I do here on the blog, certain limitations that come with the space in a CD booklet of course, some material that while compelling to me, won't necessarily fit on the essay and some corrections/clarifications after the fact, so that's at least part of what I hope to document here..

I'll soon be adding a little link on the sidebar to all posts about my liner notes, as well as a post on one of the releases I was involved with last year, and hopefully go from there as they surface..

CATEGORIES: LINER NOTES

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