Category Archives: July 2019

The most amazing Rhythm Ace

Russell Smith, first-rate singer, first-rate songwriter, died last week. He was 70.

The Amazing Rhythm Aces got lumped in with the country crowd in the latter half of the ’70s, but their sound — shaped largely by Smith — was a savory Memphis BBQ rub spiced with country, soul, R&B, swing, blues, calypso and rock.

When you dropped one of their records onto the turntable, it was time to kick back, put your feet up and pop open a cold beverage. You couldn’t help but smile at some of their songs and nod knowingly at the rest.

I could go on, but Russell Smith’s warm, laid-back voice and charming songs say so much more. A most pleasant listen, then and now. Enjoy.

The cover of "Stacked Deck," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1975.

Let’s start with “Stacked Deck,” 1975. That was the Aces’ debut, recorded at Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis. If all you heard was “Third Rate Romance,” you had no sense of their versatility.

“Third Rate Romance.” The song that started it all. Still a damn fine song.

“The Ella B.” Swamp rock, choogling between Tony Joe White and John Fogerty.

“Who Will The Next Fool Be?” In which the Aces cover Charlie Rich.

“Emma-Jean.” Unrequited love for one of the “lovely lesbian ladies slow-dancing on the parquet floor” next door. Ah, life in the tropics.

“Why Can’t I Be Satisfied.” A bit like Fleetwood Mac at a jazz club, showcasing Barry “Byrd” Burton on guitar and some combination of James Hooker and Billy Earheart on piano and organ.

The cover of "The Amazing Rhythm Aces," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1979.

“The Amazing Rhythm Aces,” 1979, is another of my favorites. It was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound with the Muscle Shoals Horns.

“Love and Happiness.” Russell Smith’s distinctive voice infuses this Al Green cover. A couple of Memphis guys.

“Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette).” This was my introduction to the Allen Toussaint song first done by Benny Spellman.

“Say You Lied.” She left. Fine harmonies and fine picking by Duncan Cameron.

The cover of "Chock Full of Country Goodness," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1994.

The Aces broke up in 1981, then got back together in 1994, releasing their own material. “Chock Full of Country Goodness” came out in 1998.

“The Rock.” He’s leaving. This one is co-written by Smith and Jim Varsos.

Technical note: I suppose the cool kids would just create a Spotify playlist, but I’m not on that, sorry.

 

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National anthem performances, ranked

On this Independence Day, a ranking of the top national anthem performances of all time. This is a highly subjective list. Yours likely will be different. That’s what makes America great.

1. Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969. The national anthem as searing social commentary. A month later, he talked about it with Dick Cavett.

2. Marvin Gaye at the NBA All-Star Game, 1983. It was “groundbreaking,” Grantland wrote. It became “the players’ anthem,” sung by “the archbishop of swagger,” The Undefeated wrote. “You knew it was history, but it was also ‘hood,” said no less than Julius Erving, the mighty Dr. J himself.

3. Jose Feliciano at the World Series, 1968. Controversial at the time, it paved the way for Hendrix and everyone else who dared do the anthem a different way. Feliciano’s version came “before the nation was ready for it.” NPR wrote. It “infuriated America,” Deadspin wrote. Ever since, it has “given voice to immigrant pride,” Smithsonian magazine wrote.

4. Mo Cheeks helping a 13-year-old girl who forgot the lyrics, 2003. A beautiful moment of empathy and grace. “Treat people the right way. That’s all that is. It’s no secret. It’s no recipe to it,” the modest, humble Cheeks told the Oklahoman in 2009.

5. Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl, 1991. An epic performance at a time when America desperately wanted to wrap itself in the flag, ESPN wrote. Truth be told, this isn’t one of my favorites because it came at this time and in these circumstances, but it belongs in the top five.

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Filed under July 2019, Sounds