Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spending a Weekend in the Soul of Brooklyn

On a few rare occasions, opportunities cross your path that you simply can't let pass up or you'll end up regretting it for ever. When I learned that renown Soul DJ Jonathan Toubin was preparing something big to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his widely successful night, New York Night Train - Soul Clap, I knew I had to be there. The line-up of the Friday night live Soul revue was enough to convince me. But when I was asked to participate and do a short DJ set, nothing was going to stop me. Well, except maybe an over zealous Trump-loving border agent. For the record, border officials are the best people in the world, specially American ones.

I consider myself lucky to be living only a 7 to 8 hour drive from New York, one of the most incredible cities on the planet. The cavalcade of legendary Soul artists that were set to perform are what Mod's dreams are made of: Irma Thomas, Maxine Brown, Archie Bell, Baby Washington, Joe Bataan, Young Jessie, Ural Thomas, David Johansen, Nick Waterhouse and King Khan. Do I have your attention now? 

Aside from the fact that I could have been a teenager during the 60s, this is the closest thing I'll ever come to jumping in a DeLorean with a flux capacitor and setting the year to 1964. As an added bonus, some of the best Soul DJs on the continent were converging on the Big Apple, many of them friends and others that I was really looking forward to meeting for the first time in the flesh. Is my excitement palpable yet?

Kurtis Powers from The Face Radio and myself, ready for some mayhem.
The Warsaw, a venue situated in the hip Greenpoint neighbourhood of Brooklyn, was the perfect place to hold the Soul revue. This century old concert venue had all the charm and pizazz you would expect for that type of concert.

First to hit the stage was Nick Waterhouse. He's one of those contemporary musicians I really like. I have seen him perform before and chances are I'll go see him every chance I get. The backup singers were really a nice surprise. Whoa! These ladies can belt out a tune!

Ural Thomas was up next. He's the artist I knew the least about. I don't recall owning any of his records. Man! was I converted! I wasn't the only one blown away by his stellar performance. That was unanimous. He owned that stage like he was 20 years old.

Baby Washington followed Thomas and it was going to be hard to beat her predecessor. She was the one I was the most looking forward to see live. Unfortunately, she didn't live up to the expectations. Her voice was low and lacking power and fortitude. Plus, she didn't sing any of my favorite tracks. He best moment was probably when she sang That's How Heartaches Are Made Of. That's the risk of putting artists that don't perform on a regular basis and that are advancing in age.

My disappointment was quickly dispelled once Young Jessie made an appearance. He might not be as young as his name suggests and even though he needed assistance to reach his stool at the center of the stage, that didn't keep him from giving a performance full of heart and class. There was a little moment of comic relief when the man who was simply bringing the stool on stage, mistaken for Young Jessie, was greeted with thunderous applause.

Speaking of class, Maxine Brown was just that. To say that I was blown away is an understatement. Her rendition of Oh No Not My Baby was quite a powerful moment.

The party was just getting started. When Boogaloo king Joe Bataan took over, the place erupted in a frenzy. I'm a massive Latin fan and I was well served. This man probably has more energy in his little finger then I have in my whole body. You can tell that he's a seasoned professional. The performance was tight. My good friend and veteran DJ Ty Jesso said it best: "Joe Bataan doing Subway Joe was a stand out moment for me. I never thought I would see him live. Just amazing!"

When Archie Bell took over the stage, he just continued to flawlessly ride Joe's party wave. I had to pinch myself a few times when he started his extended version of Tighten Up. He even gave us a little tutorial how to execute all the moves. I would have made the trip just to see that.

The show took a different turn when former New York Dolls singer, David Johansen stepped on stage. That doesn't mean he was any less of a showman, quite the contrary. David is the quintessential New York cool guy archetype. That was certainly the purest definition of living a "New York moment".

Just before Irma Thomas made her way to the stage, a secret guest was revealed. New Orleans native Jean-Baptiste, best known for being the band leader on Steven Colbert's The Late Show, took to the organ. He gave us a couple of instrumentals pieces of what could be some of the best Mod Jazz I ever heard live. All throughout the rest of the concert he seemed to be truly enjoying himself, grinning from ear to ear. We even had a moment when I caught him with his jaw dropped and making all sort of faces, mesmerized by the back-up singers standing beside him. I pointed right at him as if he had just been caught red-handed. He pointed right back acknowledging it with the largest of smiles. I liked him before, I like him even more now.

Jean-Baptiste enjoying the back-up singers' performance
Last but not least was Irma Thomas. When she introduced Time Is On My Side she started by saying: "You've heard this one by them. Now, you're going to hear it from the original." Hearing the whole crowd singing along was quite a unifying moment. Ruler Of My Heart was another stand-out moment.

My wife and I had to skip the after-party to have enough energy for the next day. We did finish the night in a Brooklyn bodega, at 2 am, getting a hero from our Dominican friend Daniel who had just received his US citizenship. It felt like such a New York thing to do.

Day two was just as intense. It started with a visit to the famous "Record Room", in the soul of Brooklyn, where my man Kurtis Powers hosts his popular show, The Face Radio

We spent an hour shooting the breeze and spinning Soul 45s.

Was our lack of sleep evident during this moment of radio history? Of course it was! You can judge for yourself by listening to the episode right here.

Cleveland's top wax spinner, DJ Alr!ght, enjoying the tunes in the Record Room.
After an intense hour on air, I had just enough time to get back to my airBnB and prepare for the night's festivities.
Don't let the serious demeanor fool you. Fellow traveler Charlie is ready for a night on the town.
Baby's All Right was hosting Jonathan Toubin's anniversary bash for the second night. Two rooms: one with live bands and one with the top Soul DJs of the Americas.
Here I am with the man of the hour, Jonathan Toubin.
Ready to warm up the crowd that was pouring in was Ryan Niederstadt who took over the reigns from his UFO Factory partner Adam Stanfel.

My job was made easy when I was passed the baton for my short set. But I had a tall order to fill because I had to keep the party going for the charismatic New York favorite and WFMU star Sheila B. If you're not a Sheila B fan already, make sure to check out her show Sophisticated Boom Boom.

As always, she delivered in a big way. Her mix of Girl Group power tracks, pounding Soul and infectious 60s rare grooves was enough to make us sweat and pant like dogs. My good friend Rob Macy from Baltimore's Save Your Soul fame didn't let us rest for a second when he had his turn at bat. If you're in Baltimore on April 7th, these two are going to team up for what is guaranteed to be the biggest party in town. Take it from me, I speak from experience.

Another WFMU big gun, Todd-O-Phonic Todd, also made his mark. Jonathan Toubin owes a great deal of credit to Todd for working behind the scenes and making this weekend a success. His show is also a must. Check out his past episodes right here.

When it comes to huge Soul events, the next guest DJ knows a thing or two about organizing them. The mastermind behind the Ponderosa Stomp Festival in New Orleans is Ira Padnos. If you want to hear some mind blowing, ultra rare records you've never heard before, this is the guy you want to know.

Since I had a long road ahead the next day, I couldn't stay until the end. There's a part of me that regrets not toughing it out. For one, 
The Clash's DJ, direct from London, DJ Scratchy was part of the line-up. I wasn't the only one to represent Canada behind the decks, Johnny Trash made us proud. I was also told that my mate from Cleveland's Secret Soul Club, DJ Alr!ght, had a killer set and New York's finest, Drew Redmond, lived up to his reputation.

The next morning, we had just a couple of hours to have brunch, briefly explore our Brooklyn neighborhood before heading back home. Normally, I would end this blog post with a few interesting photos of the city. Like these... 

If I was in a 60s Garage band, this is how we would roll.

Boozy cupcakes? I'll take a dozen please!
And a few shots of notable places we encountered on the road.

I would typically wrap it up by saying that my weekend was intense, momentous and that I was already looking forward to the next time I would cross paths with such wonderful people. But the story doesn't end here.

At around 9:30 pm, while driving on a pitch dark highway in Upstate New York, something happened that could have made this weekend bursting with positive vibes and memorable moments take a tragic detour. 

We hit a deer head on. You know, a close encounter of the 4 legged kind. Thanks to my best friend Daniel's lightning fast, Bruce Lee like reflexes, his fiance Charlie, my wife Nikki and myself were all safe and sound. As for the the Prius, that's another story. Still no news about the deer. It's as if it had vanished into thin air. 

Looks more like a large crow hit our car.

Stranded on the side of the road, on a chilly March Sunday night for a over an hour before police, towing and taxi would arrive wasn't the most pleasant but considering that if Daniel had slammed on the brakes a fraction of a second later, the ending to this post could have been quite different.

Instead, we got to spend an extra night in the US. I could think of worst ways of spending a Sunday night then amongst friends in a motel in Plattsburgh, New York.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Travel Across America With The Top 15 Northern Soul tracks about the USA

Every Mod, Soul or 60s DJ has their own style. I like to think that I have forged my own over the years. For one, I like to spin obscure ready for the dance floor covers of known hits. In Quebec, we have plenty of French covers of those.

One thing I like to do, from time to time, is go off on a theme. I'll play tracks that have a common thread. For example, last year, on Valentine's day, I played a 90 minute set with 45s that all had the word "Love" in the title. Most of the time, the dancing masses don't notice anything but on the rare occasion, I'll have someone come up to the DJ booth with a smile and say: "I see what you're doing there!"

On this blog, you'll find posts like The Top 12 Soul & RnB Tracks About Money, The Top 15 Tracks About Dogs and The Top 20 Soul and RnB Tracks About Monkeys. Those lists might have your favorite tracks missing and there's a perfectly reasonable reason why. If I don't personally own the record, I can't add it the list. As simple as that. Also, I'll try to go for the songs you've never heard of before.

Now that I laid down the rules, here is my selection of the top Soul tracks about American cities. When I say "Northern Soul", I use the term loosely. Some fall under the Blues umbrella, others under the Mod Jazz moniker, a few can be considered RnB while some are plain Garage. Some tracks are about states instead of cities. I hope you'll give me some creative licence. They are compiled in no particular order. If you want to listen to all the tracks while reading this article, head over to The Parka Avenue Podcast on Mixcloud.

Let's start our journey on East coast in the city of all cities, New York. Frank Sinatra said it best: "If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere". And a lot Soul singers did try.

1) Bobby Bennett - Big New York - Phil L.A. Of Soul

This piece of dance floor friendly Soul came out in the States on the Phil L.A. Of Soul label in 1969. My picture sleeve copy came out in France on CBS the same year and it was also released in the UK on London Records. The thing to remember about this song is the not too subtle and direct lyric: "I want you to tell me / Can you find a chick for me". This 45 is a true double-sider with the feet shuffling Baby, Try Me on the flip.

2) New York City Baby - Billy Hambric - Soho Records

Not much is known about this New York native. It makes sense that this track came out in 1965 on Soho Records which was based at 422 Madison Ave, right in the heart of the Big Apple. I believe the record originally came out a year earlier on Lee Records, another New York label. This up-tempo number just keeps building and building! And when the strings enter the picture that's when the track has reached it's soulful peak.

Bobby was best known for being a member of The Famous Flames with James Brown.

3) New York City - The Precisions - Atco

We're not ready to leave New York just yet! This Detroit act is well known for the Northern Soul classic If This Is Love (I'd Rather Be Lonely). New York City is their last effort and came out in 1969. Nice piece of uplifting funky Soul.

4) Detroit - Little Jerry Williams - Southern Sound

Speaking of the Motor City, Little Jerry Williams, also known as Swamp Dogg came out with this ode to Detroit in 1965. This 100 mph up-tempo dancer won't let you catch your breath, just the way I like it.

5) Detroit - The Nocturnals - Embassy

You would think that with lyrics like "I'm going back to Detroit / My home, Detroit", The Nocturnals would be a Michigan based Garage ensemble. You would be mistaken. They were actually from Vancouver, Canada. Detroit was also released on the Montreal based Trans-World record label but finding a copy is not an easy task.

This 1967 party starter might sound off with some killer fuzz and be reminiscent of other great Canadian 60s Punk acts like The Haunted but one could argue that it also flirts with the best Soul and RnB acts of the time.

6) Soulville - Dinah Washington - Roulette

We're going to make a quick detour to Soulville before heading down South. Soulville will be the only fictitious stop on our musical journey. This energetic and dynamic cover of Titus Turner's much slower New Breed original is hardly recognizable. Although I'm a big Titus Turner fan, this track, from one of the most beautiful Blues and RnB voices of her generation, will always take precedence.

7) Funky Virginia - Sir Guy & The Rocking Cavaliers - D.P.G.

Let's head South, shall we? Instead of visiting just one city. let's tour the whole state. I was turned on to this record by my friend Ryan aka DJ Lord Thomas who resides in Porthsmouth, Virginia, just a few miles from Norfolk where this small label was established. I was surprised to hear that Funky Virginia is actually the b-side. This 1969 obscure piece of wax is the perfect amalgam of Funk and Soul with a classic drum beat that is sure to set a dance floor on fire. Don't take it from me, if Sir Guy says it, it must be true: "They have parties all night / They have dancing girls / The best in the world".

8) Memphis - The Young Gyants - Parkway

The promo copy of this 45 has Chuck Day and The Young Gyants as the band. C. Berry is credited as the songwriter. At first, I was wondering if Chuck Berry had performed with The Young Gyants under a different name but all the evidence I found reveals that this is not the case. Nonetheless, you'll find Berry's fast paced, hit-making signature on this one.

9) New Orleans - Eddie Hodges - Aurora

Amongst record collectors and DJs, there's sometimes a strange belief that rare + expensive = good. I don't usually fall in that trap. Here's a good example of a cheap, relatively common but also great record. This former child actor might not have had a long singing career but this track is guaranteed to make you move, move, move!

10) Rome, GA. - Albert Washington and The Kings - Fraternity

You know I can't pass up an up-tempo scorcher with a drum break, right? Well, this is exactly what you get on the b-side. Released in 1967 by the Cincinnati based record label Fraternity, Albert Washington was actually a native from this small Georgia city. You'll sweat dancing to this record just like you would on a hot and humid summer night in Rome.

11) Kansas City - Wilbert Harrison - Barrel

This is the only #1 hit you'll find on this list. There's a reason why it went to the top spot on the Billboard chart in 1959. It's pretty damn good. My copy was pressed on the Canadian label Barrel but it was originally released on Fury. In 2001, this song was given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.

12) Frisco - Rising Roberts - Corona

I just had to throw in a complete unknown track in the lot. When I heard this Soul / Psych hybrid for the first time I knew I had to own it. Throw in, not one, but two drum breaks in a song and I am sold!

There is a small city in Texas called Frisco but this opus is undoubtedly about the city by the Bay, San Francisco. I couldn't find any information about this band so if you know anything, please let us know.

13) Hello San Francisco - Sugar Pie DeSanto - Jasman

Let's stay in the Bay area a little while longer. It's so nice here and it has such a rich musical history.

Man do I love this song! I'm not a big Blues collector but this two part number might just be the one that ignites a new passion. I was already sold on Sugar Pie but the way she delivers here rivals any other track she recorded. In the song, she states that it's 1968 but it could have well been recorded in 1961. It was released two years later.

Although Ms. DeSanto was known as a prolific songwriter, especially during her years at Chess, this is a rare occasion where Bob Geddins, a legendary Blues producer from Oakland, California took over the writing credits.

14) Beaches,  U.S.A. - Gary (U.S.) Bonds - Legrand

Let's wind down this list with an overall survey of the great beaches from across the land. Many great waterfront towns are mentioned here: Malibu, Miami, Atlantic City, Ocean City. As my good friend Ben said: "This is Bond's finest record. This is a full-throttle-smacks-you-in-the-face dancer that deserves more attention!" I couldn't agree more and thanks to him, I have my own copy now.

15) Montreal '67 - François Carel - Carrousel

I had no choice to finish this road trip around North America just North of the border in my own city of Montreal. Now this is a record that had been at the very top of my want list for a long time. Not because it's expensive or extremely rare, it's because I find it unbelievably good. It's still under the radar and unknown so if you know where to look, you might be able to put your paws on a copy.

Every time I hear Montreal '67, I'm baffled that this came out of my beloved city. I'll go out and say it, this is the Canadian Green Onions. This is, hands down, one of the best pieces of Mod Jazz I know! It's not surprising since, according to my friend Félix B. Desfossés, who interviewed François Carel for his blog, names Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff as major influences. We're talking Mod Jazz royalty here! For this particular track, Carel cites the Ramsey Lewis Trio as the inspiration.

Dedicated to Expo '67, this instrumental will start off with Carel playing piano and right in the middle of the piece, will switch to his Farfisa organ. Add some hand clapping to that and you have a slice of Mod heaven. François Carel might have been the one true Mod that came out of Quebec in the 60s. According to an article that came out in 1967, he is quoted as adopting the "London Style". I strongly suggest to check out my mate's blog, Vente de Garage, for a full account of Carel's career. If you scroll down to the bottom, you'll find part of the article translated in English.

Bonus track!

Montreal La Nuit - Michel Como - Caroussel

I just could't let pass this obscure swinging Popcorn / Mod Jazz record about my lovely city in the 60s. Montreal has had the reputation of having the best nightlife since the Prohibition started in the US in the 20s. When Michel Como sings about Montreal being "a bit like Paris" and "a place for mistresses and illegal things" you know that you're going to have a good time here.

There you have it, a quick trip around the continent at a speed of 45rpm. Don't forget, all the tracks are available on the Parka Avenue Podcast here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Search For Soul & RnB records in New York

When you only have 3 days to spend in New York, it's impossible to visit every record shop. And between radio shows, a DJ gig and visiting friends, that makes it a challenge. When you can combine hanging with mates and record digging, you're coming close to my definition of nirvana.

So with a tight schedule, I didn't even enter a shop in Manhattan and concentrated my digging efforts in Jersey City and Brooklyn. I arrived on Friday, in Jersey City, just early enough to visit two shops before heading over to the WFMU studios for my appearance on Sheila B's show Sophisticated Boom Boom. You can read all about my experience here.

The first stop was Stan's Square Records, 737 Bergen Ave. The place was empty and according to the only employee, I was the first one to come through the doors that day.

The owner Stan has recently died and apparently the shop is on the verge of closing. You can tell that the stock hasn't been renewed in a while but with enough time and patience, a few gems can be unearthed.

I managed to buy a few Mod Jazz singles but the condition is far from pristine. A copy of the Northern Soul classic Higher and Higher by Jackie Wilson for  $1? Sure, I'll take that. My favorite find has to be the Ramsey Lewis Trio doing an instrumental rendition of the In Crowd on Argo.

When I asked if I could go through the row of 45s sitting on a dusty shelf behind the counter, I was told that the family wanted to keep those. I don't get that. What is the point of having records in a store if you're not going to sell them.

Anyway, on to the next one. Iris Record (114 Brunswick St) is, on the other hand, a lot less gloomy. For one, it resides in a century old pharmacy. How cool is that? Drugs and Rock and Roll under the same roof? Sort of makes sense to me.

There are plenty of 45s to go through and for you, LP collectors out there, you won't make the trip for nothing. Just like at Stan's, I didn't find anything mind blowing but the prices are more than reasonable. All the records are sleeveless, a bit worst for wear and in need of a good cleaning but there's potential to find a few good tracks.

The guy behind the counter was really nice and when I was ready to pay, I saw a copy of The Horse by Cliff Nobles just lying there. When I said that I really liked that track, he just added it to the pile as a gift. There's no way that in my own town I would ever come across a Cliff Nobles 45, as common as it may be in New York, on a regular basis.

The next day, I met up with my man Kurtis Powers, from The Face Radio, at his brownstone in Brooklyn for a second round of record hunting.

Just a couple of blocks from Kurtis' place is a memorial to an old Mafia boss.
Now to go hunt for records on a Vespa Sprint was certainly an added bonus. I had packed my helmet for the occasion and I was sure glad I did. How else should a couple of Mods in New York spend the last days of summer anyway?

Can't start a packed day of intense record diggin' without a hearty breakfast.
My guide made sure to take plenty of detours to cover as many Brooklyn neighborhoods as we could. What a pleasant surprise it was when Kurtis decided to take the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. The memory of following him on his stunning white Vespa VBB on this historic bridge on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon will be forever etched in my mind.
For those of you that think that New York has the best bagels in the world, you obviously have never tried a Montreal bagel. Don't believe me? Google it!

Our first stop was Co-Op 87. According to my friend, this is one of the best kept secrets in Brooklyn. He was hesitant reveling it to me knowing that it would make the pages of this blog. I reminded him that a quick Google search of record shops would reveal its identity.

I did understand why this is a favorite digging spot of his. Everything is so neat and organized. Some of the 45s are even classified by label. You're missing a certain Motown single? Boom! Pull out the Motown box.

The most surprising part is when it comes time to pay. The owner simply scans the tiny bar code on the sleeve and gives you the total. Now that's impressive! I didn't leave with a ton of records but I was happy to leave with this very funky song. Actually, I think the title says it all.

Our second and final stop of the day was Superior Elevation Records, 100 White St, #B. The shop is situated in the industrial neighborhood of Bushwick and just exploring the surrounding streets near the record shop was fascinating to me.

The selection at this place is impressive. The lack of time held me from digging deep. I only got to scratch the surface. This doesn't mean I left empty handed. Au contraire my friends!

The service is top notch! And I'm not just saying that because they offered us free beer.

Just before heading back to Montreal on Sunday morning I had time for one last halt. After a hearthy brunch with my budy Scott, aka DJ Bjornlate, in the beautiful neighborhood of Park Slope, I was headed to Northern Lights Records.

Breakfast of champions with my mate Scott.
And what would be a day of driving in Brooklyn without witnessing an accident? I was a minute away from the record shop sitting at a red light when a car behind me, too impatient to wait in traffic, decided to speed up in the upcoming lane only to slip in behind a truck at the edge of the intersection. The only thing he hadn't foreseen, in his infinite wisdom, was the bicycle behind the truck. All I heard was a large thump. Fortunaly, the cyclist wasn't injured. I saw him emerged walking beside his bike with no apparent damage. The only one who seemed to have sustained any damage was the expensive car's paint and the driver's ego.

Northern Lights has a large collection of inexpensive 45s. If you have time on your hands, you'll manage to sniff out a few records to add to your collection. The condition of the 45s aren't the best but they have a VPI machine that will take out most of the dirt.

Their Jamaican and Caribbean section is enviable but like any Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae collector will tell you, the condition is always rough.
The staff was friendly and helpful. This place should definitely be part of your itinerary.

What awaited me after a rather intense 3 days was a 9 hour drive home (with all the stops). I'm already looking forward to my next visit.