Tag Archives: Amazing Rhythm Aces

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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Filed under July 2019, Sounds

The great adventure

It was just a short news story, but it instantly reminded me where I was 30 years ago this weekend. I was in Cleveland, on the first leg of the adventure of a lifetime.

That’s overstating it, of course, but when you’re 21 and traveling alone for the first time, it seems that way. That you’re seeing the grittier side of America from a bus certainly adds to the experience.

jeffjanesville05xx79backpack05xx79I’d always wanted to see the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

So as my college classes ended in May 1979, I talked my bosses at the newspaper into giving me a few days off.

I bought a sleeping bag, packed a backpack, borrowed a camera and took off.

I drove to southern Wisconsin, stayed overnight at my aunt’s house and caught a bus to Chicago. There, in a vaguely scary bus station, I caught another Greyhound and headed east.

When we reached Cleveland, a huge, double-deck headline in the Plain Dealer screamed about a plane crash in Chicago in which 273 people had been killed. It was — and still is — the worst crash involving a single plane in U.S. history. That’s why it was in the news today.

Going across New York state, I chatted with a young woman. All was well until she tried to convert me to her brand of religion. No thanks.

My plan, once I got off the bus in Cooperstown, was to camp out for a couple of nights. But it had been raining since Albany and never let up. I never saw the top of any mountain in the Catskills, thanks to the low-hanging rain clouds. So I found a room in a cheap motel and spent a couple of rain-soaked days in Cooperstown.

Of course, the sun was out as I sat outside Clancy’s Deli in Cooperstown, savoring my first New York deli sandwich and waiting for the Trailways bus on the first leg of the trip home.

Going across Ohio, I chatted with a younger guy, maybe 18 or so, who spun a breathless tale of working with or being mentored by the singer Johnny Mathis. I probably said something like “Johnny Mathis, eh?”

He misread my skepticism about his story and immediately sought to reassure me that although he had worked with the singer, he himself certainly was not gay, no sir, no way. He needn’t have worried. I was clueless. I never would have thought that had he not mentioned it.

A long, strange trip indeed.

Here’s a road song from one of the records I was listening to at the time.

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“Homestead In My Heart,” the Amazing Rhythm Aces, from “The Amazing Rhythm Aces,” 1979.

It’s written and sung by Duncan Cameron, a guitarist who joined the group a year earlier. That’s Joan Baez on the background vocals. Not quite Memphis soul, not quite country, it’s still a good cut from an underrated album.

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Filed under May 2009, Sounds

In the presence of greatness

One of the great things about our local music scene is our local casino and the acts it brings in. Of course, the intent is to get people in for the music and keep them for the gaming.

But you can’t argue with that strategy when they bring in a New Orleans music legend for a three-night stand of free shows at an intimate little lounge on the edge of the noisy gaming floor.

Allen Toussaint — the great R&B writer, producer, arranger and most recently performer — played a marvelous set on Tuesday night.

A gentle, delightful man with a sparkle in his eyes (and his tie and his shoes), Toussaint nodded hello as he walked past me and onto the stage. Sitting hard to his right at the edge of the stage, I watched over Toussaint’s shoulder as he gracefully and seemingly effortlessly worked the piano.

Toussaint’s 90-minute show was a delightful trip through his life and career. He sat down and started with a couple of instrumentals. He followed with Chuck Berry’s “School Days,” a song he said he wished he’d written. He then swung into a medley of some of his tunes that were covered by other artists.

Toussaint also played a long, rollicking instrumental piece that purported to explain how he learned to play the piano, going from simple child’s melodies to more polished classical, jazz and R&B passages. He ended the evening with a gently winding monologue that told the story of how he came to write “Southern Nights.” (Yes, that “Southern Nights,” the Glen Campbell hit from 1977.)

I’m late to the party when it comes to Allen Toussaint and all the tunes he’s written and performed.

Most of what I know and have heard has come from Dan over at Home of the Groove, a terrific place to learn about New Orleans music. In fact, Dan wrote about Toussaint just last month.

Much of the rest of what I know and have heard has come from Larry over at Funky 16 Corners. A year ago, Larry laid down several Toussaint-produced tunes in his NOLA Soul Pt. 1 mix.

Gents, thank you. If you’re new to Toussaint as I was, enjoy these tunes.

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“Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky,” Allen Toussaint, from “Allen Toussaint,” 1971.

And these three tunes, all written by Toussaint and performed here by him on Tuesday night, yet among those more memorably covered by others.

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“Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette),” the Amazing Rhythm Aces, from “The Amazing Rhythm Aces,” 1979. Done first by Benny Spellman in 1962 and also covered by the O’Jays. One of my favorite songs.

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“Fortune Teller,” Benny Spellman, 1962, from “Mojo Presents Stoned,” a compilation CD distributed with Mojo magazine last September. It’s the original B side to “Lipstick Traces,” yet probably is far better known today, thanks to covers by the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Hollies, the Tony Jackson Group and most recently by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on their “Raising Sand” album, released last year.

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“A Certain Girl,” Warren Zevon, from “Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School,” 1980. Done first by Ernie K-Doe, also in 1962.

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Filed under February 2008, Sounds

Still amazing, still aces

When you hear of the Amazing Rhythm Aces, you almost certainly think of “Third Rate Romance.” And rightly so. It’s a first-rate tune.

But if you think they’re just a country band, I am here to dispel that notion.

The Aces came out of Memphis in the early ’70s, putting together a tasty stew that mixed R&B, soul, country and even a little bluegrass. Russell Smith’s laconic vocals topped off plenty of tight, winning performances from this six-piece group.

They hit it big in 1975 with “Third Rate Romance.” You know that one.

Listen, then, to a couple of cuts from “Stacked Deck,” their debut album from that year. Both are written by Smith.

“The Ella B” is a little bit of swamp rock, a little more lighthearted than Joe South or Creedence.

With its elegant piano line, “King of the Cowboys” echoes Jackson Browne and the early Eagles.

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“The Ella B” and “King of the Cowboys,” the Amazing Rhythm Aces, from “Stacked Deck,” 1975.

The Aces’ albums, particularly those from the ’70s, have gone in and out and back into print in various formats since. The link above is to a CD that pairs “Stacked Deck” with the Aces’ second album, “Too Stuffed to Jump.” That’s a nice combination.

As for the Aces, they broke up in 1981, then reunited part-time in 1995, then full-time in 1997. They’ve since recorded and toured sporadically, re-recording some old material on a couple of albums and putting out four albums of new material.

This year, they released a new CD, “Midnight Communion.” To learn more, check out their web site or their MySpace page.

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Filed under October 2007, Sounds

One last summer fling

As August draws to a close, there’s almost a tangible sense that summer also is doing so.

Those last few nights by the lake, or at the cottage, seem quieter. They seem longer. There’s an emptiness about them.

You know what has gone on all summer. Perhaps you miss that vibe. Perhaps you’re glad to be done with it.

Perhaps you hooked up with someone. Perhaps it went well, perhaps not. Perhaps you wanted to hook up with someone, but could not or did not. Perhaps you just remember those experiences from summers past.

That pursuit is one of the essential ingredients of any summer.

So we’re putting our money in the jukebox and playing those songs — the ones that have the feel of summer crushes, love, lust, flirtation, obsession, whatever — one last time before the outdoor bar closes until Memorial Day.

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“Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” the slow version, Neil Sedaka, 1976, from “The Definitive Collection,” 2007.

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“Me and Mrs. Jones,” Billy Paul, 1972, from “Soul Hits of the ’70s — Didn’t It Blow Your Mind” sampler, 1991. The entire series is out of print. Try “Me and Mrs. Jones: The Best of Billy Paul,” from 1999.

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“Bailamos,” Enrique Iglesias, from “Enrique,” 1999. (It’s also on the “Wild Wild West” soundtrack from the same year.)

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“Who Will the Next Fool Be?” Amazing Rhythm Aces, from “Stacked Deck,” 1975. (Packaged on CD with the “Too Stuffed To Jump” album.)

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“How Blue Can You Get?” B.B. King, 1970, from “The Best of B.B. King,” 1973. This album is out of print. This tune also is on “Live in Cook County Jail,” 1971. Whether it’s the same version, I don’t know. (It is, and thanks to Whiteray over at Echoes in the Wind for the heads-up.)

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Filed under August 2007, Sounds