RIP Gregory Isaacs

26 10 2010

Yesterday, Gregory Isaacs died of lung cancer at the age of 59 in his London home. Isaacs was a beloved reggae legend who recorded over 500 albums. 500! His most famous song is probably his 1982 release “Night Nurse”, but I really like this old 1978 footage of “Tune In”. I’m also really into “Number One”, another late 70’s hit.


Check out the tunes…

It’s A Shame

25 05 2010

The dual guitar intro on this Spinner’s tune from 1970 just grabs you as soon as you hear it. So much so that it helped take “It’s A Shame” to #14. The song was released on Motown’s subsidiary VIP, which is ironic because VIP was usually reserved for Berry Gordy’s least desirable acts. “It’s A Shame” was actually written and produced by Stevie Wonder (and wife, Syreeta Wright), specifically for The Spinners. It was his first that he produced by himself for an act other than his own. It proved to be The Spinners’ biggest hit in their entire career with Motown, which ended in 1972. The group signed with Atlantic after being referred by fellow Detroit native Aretha Franklin. In all their years with Motown, The Spinners were always highly respected but lacked any remarkable success. Often they would act as lackeys for Berry Gordy and Motown, taking work as road managers, chaperons or chauffeurs for other groups, and even as low as shipping clerks at one point. Shortly after signing with Atlantic, they became one of the biggest soul acts of 1970’s with numerous top 10 hits to their credit. Fitting retribution for all those years of hard work and no big pay day with Motown.

Here is The Spinners’ classic “It’s A Shame” circa 1970. No spectacular video here but the audio is all you need for this one.

There are a ton of covers of this tune but that should be no surprise. For starters, it’s a Stevie Wonder composition which always seem to make the rounds. On top of that, it’s one of those crossovers from the time when soul went funky, mixing the bass groove and harmonies of the 60’s with the energy and fire of the 70’s.

Here is Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings doing an all instrumental version of “It’s A Shame” live. I love how the baritone sax plays the lead vocal part, while the rest of the horn section blast away on the arrangement.

This cover is absolutely brilliant. So much so it almost deserves it’s own post. It’s Alton Ellis giving this classic an old school dub reggae feel back in 1971.

Finally, here is the instrumental track from Motown’s original house band The Funk Brothers. This is the actual original recording from the session that has since surfaced. This happens to be one of James Jamerson’s greatest bass lines so to hear it like this is a real treat. It has serious groove, implies the harmony and even touches the melody at points… genius.


More info on The Spinners

More info on “It’s A Shame”

More info on Motown

More info on VIP Records

More info on Berry Gordy

More info on The Funk Brothers

More info on Alton Ellis

Lee “Scratch” Perry | Ghetto Music

13 04 2010

I found this great excerpt from a documentary on reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry. In just these few minutes you really get a sense of what it might have been like to be there while Perry was making history. Scratch is one of the early pioneers of what became popular reggae. He has produced Jamaica’s biggest acts like Bob Marley & the Wailers, The Upsetters and The Heptones. In the early 70’s, Perry was one of the producers whose mixing board experiments resulted in the creation of dub. During that time, guys like Scratch and others, like King Tubby, started to turn the hard grooves and beat heavy reggae rhythms into a new dance music. Scratch’s story is iconic. He built his studio himself in his backyard, where he produced some of the biggest names in reggae music. It was called the Black Ark and it’s where he developed his innovative production techniques. His inventive style was built around his ability to overdub layers of sound effects and instrumentation on each recording track of a basic 4-track machine…. a technique that takes such precision only few were ever capable of doing it well. Perry was the master. Before you watch the video, check out this cool old picture of Scratch…

Music of the Ghetto

More info on Lee “Scratch” Perry

More info on The Black Ark

More footage of Perry at The Black Ark

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