Tag Archives: Gladys Knight and the Pips

Meanwhile, back at the blog …

Earlier this year, we shared an appreciation of four music greats who are still with us: Chuck Berry, Little RichardJerry Lee Lewis and Tina Turner. They’re my four. Yours may be different.

Yet that train keeps bearing down on us, taking Scotty Moore, Mack Rice, Bernie Worrell, Ralph Stanley, Wayne Jackson and Chips Moman this month alone. Since we last gathered here, Guy Clark, Candye Kane, Billy Paul, Lonnie Mack and Prince also have left the building.

In a year in which we have lost so many music legends, it seems wise to not stop at four. It also seems wise to not wait too long.

So here are four more music greats who are still with us, all of them still going strong. This is by no means the B team, or the second tier, or anything like that. Just four more worth appreciating here and now.

Mavis Staples, 76. The beloved gospel/soul/R&B singer released a wonderful new record, “Livin’ On A High Note,” in February. That same month, “Mavis,” a documentary profile, premiered on HBO. She’s playing gigs across North America through November, then will receive Kennedy Center Honors in December.

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“Revolution,” Mavis Staples, from “Hot Wacks,” 2013, a compilation of artists on the Anti- label. A distinctive cover of the Beatles song from one who’s long sung about revolution.

Tom Jones, 76. Sir Tom is performing gigs across Europe this summer in support of “Long Lost Suitcase,” a roots record released last October as the final part of a trilogy that also includes “Praise & Blame” and “Spirit In The Room,” which came out in 2010 and 2012, respectively. “Long Lost Suitcase” also is the companion piece to his memoirs, “Over The Top And Back.” It’s been a tough year, though. His wife of 59 years, Linda, died in April.

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“Dance of Love,” Tom Jones, from “This is Tom Jones,” 1969. It’s a tune written and done first by Charlie Rich in 1965 on the Smash label.

Dennis Coffey, 75. This Funk Brother is still playing some mean rock and jazz guitar “in the D.” He tweets out his shows at @DennisCoffeyDET, announcing on relatively short notice that he’ll be at the Northern Lights Lounge — his most frequent Detroit gig — or at Motor City Wine, or at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe. His blog is recommended reading. Coffey shares lots of good stories there. Likewise his discography for record collectors. His last record, the solid, self-titled “Dennis Coffey,” came out on Strut Records in 2011. It’s worth checking out.

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“Never Can Say Goodbye,” Dennis Coffey, from “Goin’ For Myself,” 1972. A cover of the Jackson 5 tune on which Coffey demonstrates a little bit of soul, a little bit of funk and a bit more jazz.

Gladys Knight, 72. Another of the great ladies of soul, she’s playing gigs in Europe and the United States through October. A solo act for almost 30 years now, she hasn’t had the late-career success of her peers. Widely known today for lush ballads and inspirational songs, Gladys Knight belongs here because of her energetic performances with the Pips in the late ’60s and earliest ’70s on Motown’s Soul label. She really did get down to the real nitty gritty, kids.

gladys knight pips nitty gritty lp

“(I Know) I’m Losing You,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, from “Nitty Gritty,” 1969. When I heard this cut on Sirius XM not too long ago, I was reminded that this is one of my favorite LPs. And, yeah, that’s Dennis Coffey playing guitar on the “Nitty Gritty” single and his wah-wah, fuzz-toned lick about 11 seconds into the intro of “Friendship Train.”

 

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Filed under June 2016, Sounds

Doin’ fine on Cloud Nine

We interrupt our appreciation of music legends still with us for an appreciation of something else still with us.

AM, Then FM is quietly celebrating its ninth anniversary in the blogosphere.

It arrived on the scene during the last week of February 2007.

It gradually gained a modest group of regular visitors, thanks to gracious and kind support from fellow bloggers who remain friends to this day. Back then, there were many blogs, many readers. Times change.

When AM, Then FM debuted …

— Our son had just turned 12 and was in sixth grade. He’s now 21, a college junior, performing in still another play this week and heading to New York on a spring break theatre tour in a couple of weeks.

— I’d just marked 29 years in the news business. I’m no longer in the news business.

Yep, times change.

But I’ll continue to buy records and talk about them here as if we were in the same room, listening to them and sharing our takes on them.

Your continued loitering is much appreciated. We’ll keep on keepin’ on.

I wanna say I love the life I live.
And I’m gonna live the life I love.
Up here on Cloud 9.

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“Cloud Nine,” the Temptations, 1969, from “The Motown Story” box set, 1970. It’s out of print. This cut features a minute-long intro with Otis Edwards discussing how they came to record the song during the fall of 1968. He insists it’s about the state of black life at the time, and not about drugs, as widely believed at the time.

Also featuring Dennis Coffey on lead guitar and Mongo Santamaria on conga drums. Santamaria covered it later that year on his “Stone Soul” LP.

gladys knight pips nitty gritty lp

“Cloud Nine,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, from “Nitty Gritty,” 1969. A cool cover on which the Pips get gritty, too.

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Filed under February 2016, Sounds

The defense attorney

Every town must have a hippie lawyer. Ours was Gene Linehan.

He was the guy you hired if, say, busted for pot in Wausau, Wisconsin.

Gene was in his early 30s, probably not long out of the University of Wisconsin law school, when he started making a name for himself in the ’70s. He handled cases that raised eyebrows in a small town. Wausau had 50,000 people, but it was — and is — a small town.

Gene always seemed to be taking on The Man. As the local paper stiffly noted the other day, “in the 1970s, he was implicated in an underage drinking and marijuana bust” in a downtown park. He represented cops suing the police chief. He represented Indian tribes suing polluters.

One story goes that Gene, famously irreverent, once was ordered to wear a tie in court. He whipped a tie out of his jacket pocket and tied it haphazardly around his head. Everyone cracked up, even the judge who issued the order.

Gene Linehan died last week while summering on his boat on Lake Superior. He was 66. One of his clients remembered him this way:

“Gene represented me in high school, and told me that if I got a certain grade point average he would waive all my fees. He did things like that for people all the time. He would do everything to help you, and wouldn’t give up. He also gave you practical, real world advice and was never condescending. Gene was easy to talk to, and wasn’t judgmental.”

Having grown up in Wausau, it’s hard to imagine the place without Gene Linehan. It really is the end of an era.

I’m not sure this is the right song, but it feels like the right one. It certainly comes from the right time.

“This train stands for justice/This train stands for freedom.”

“Friendship Train,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, 1969, from “Greatest Hits,” 1970. It’s out of print, but the tune is available on “The Ultimate Collection,” a greatest-hits comp of the group’s early work on the Soul label. It was released on CD in 1997.

This is, of course, the scorching Motown tune by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. One of the great message songs of the time.

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Filed under September 2010, Sounds

High fives all around

Our friend Larry over at Funky 16 Corners is celebrating five years of F16C with more cool Beatles covers. Head over there and check out two new mixes and four older mixes.

Larry has been a guide, an inspiration and a good friend. We have plenty in common, and not just the music. On my wish list: Road tripping from Wisconsin to New Jersey just to soak in the vibe when Larry and his pals spin 45s at Asbury Park Lanes some night.

Here, then, as a small way of saying thanks, are five more Beatles covers in that same soul/R&B spirit. They’re more mainstream than Larry’s selections, but that just goes to show how deeply the man is digging it. Hope you will enjoy them nonetheless.

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“Eleanor Rigby,” Bobbie Gentry, from “Local Gentry,” 1968. An almost perfect match of sultry singer, downbeat song and low-key arrangement. (Also covered on this LP, and not as well: “Fool on the Hill” and “Here, There and Everywhere.”)

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“Get Back,” Al Green, from “Green Is Blues,” 1969. It’s out of print. (Al’s cover of “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” also from 1969, is much in the same sizzling vein.)

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“Got To Get You Into My Life,” the Four Tops, from “Soul Spin,” 1969. A song made for the great Levi Stubbs. (This is a CD rip from “Mojo Beatlemania, Volume 2,” included with Mojo magazine in September 2004.)

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“Let It Be,” Ike and Tina Turner, from “Workin’ Together,” 1971. It’s out of print but is available digitally. Listen to how Tina tweaks the lyrics to make this her own, then gives it a bit of a gospel feel. (Also on covered on this LP, and shared earlier by Larry: “Get Back.”)

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“Come Together,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, from “A Little Knight Music,” 1975. Recorded while they were at Motown in the early ’70s, maybe 1971 or 1972. Sassier than you’d think.

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Filed under November 2009, Sounds

I need to get fired up

As noted on my Facebook page a few minutes ago, I’m taking it easy before stepping into the two-day-long hurricane that is NFL draft coverage when you live in Green Bay.

It’s a cool, dreary, rainy day, one that mirrors my intensity level.

I’m not sure the tunes I have for you today will fire you up. But I am fired up that the record they come from is much better than expected.

In 1973, Gladys Knight and the Pips were weary of being a second-tier act among Motown artists, so they moved over to Buddah Records.

Early that year, their “Neither One of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)” hit the top of the charts for Motown’s Soul label. Later that year, their “Midnight Train to Georgia” hit No. 1 for Buddah.

After “Midnight Train,” their next three Buddah singles — “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination,” “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” and “On and On” — made the top five. Their first three Buddah albums hit No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1973 and 1974.

Motown, never a label to miss an opportunity to cash in, saw what Gladys Knight and the Pips were doing on Buddah and cobbled together a couple of albums of mostly unreleased material. “Knight Time” came out on the Soul label in 1974 and “A Little Knight Music” in 1975.

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I found the latter among the dollar records in my friend Jim’s back yard last weekend. I grabbed it mostly for its covers. Here are two.

“Come Together” and “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, from “A Little Knight Music,” 1975. (The album link is to a 2006 UK import CD that has both this album and “Knight Time.”)

Both of these tunes prominently feature the Pips. “Come Together” is nasty, with a sassy Miss Knight, some gritty lead and wah-wah guitars and a rat-a-tat horn chart. “Put A Little Love” sounds like a gospel meeting in Vegas, with some showy horns in an arrangement that would be at home on “The Tom Jones Show.”

Judging from the sound of those arrangements, and given that Johnny Bristol produced both tunes, I’m guessing these sessions took place in the early ’70s, maybe 1971 or 1972. Bristol also left Motown in 1973.

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Filed under April 2009, Sounds

Motown by Motown

Today is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the legendary Motown Records in Detroit.

Today we have the early Motown story, told by those who lived it.

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“The Motown Story” came into the house when Janet and I merged our record collections. She bought it in the early ’80s, when the soundtrack to “The Big Chill” revived interest in classic Motown tunes.

What Janet bought so long ago is a five-LP box set that was released in 1970. It’s hanging on for dear life, having survived a memorable party in the early ’80s. The box is battered. The booklet that came with it is long gone. When I opened it last week, three of the LPs had one kind of sleeve, one had another kind of sleeve and one had no sleeve.

“The Motown Story” is essentially an audio documentary, complete with a narrator, sound bites from the performers and near-complete versions of 58 of Motown’s biggest hits from its first decade.

What makes this set so special almost 40 years on is that we get to hear Motown performers tell their stories in their own words. The cuts that follow have spoken intros or outros and, at times, end a little abruptly.

“Detroit, Michigan!
“Motor Town! Motown!
“This is the Motown sound!”

— Charlie Van Dyke, the narrator

“We, uh, really dug the type of things that reflected, uh, the society.”

— Motown Record Corp. founder Berry Gordy, 1970.

“We were just kind of a, like a small company then, you know, most of the employees were musically inclined.”

— “Money,” Barrett Strong, 1960.

“I was trying to find myself and I didn’t quite know where, where I was, or where I wanted to go, and, uh, Smokey Robinson, who is probably, uh, the greatest living poet, kind of pulled me up out of, uh, out of my depression at that time.”

— “I’ll Be Doggone,” Marvin Gaye, 1965.

“The ideas come from experience, so maybe my surrounding has a lot to do with the, the way I would write a song.”

— “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” Stevie Wonder, 1965.

“I don’t, I don’t consider myself as being a heck of a singer, man. I’m more of a stylist, if you will. … I like to live what I, what I do, and, you know, with the performances, you know, I like to live ’em.” (Levi Stubbs)

— “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” the Four Tops, 1966.

“‘Standing In the Shadows Of Love,’ is, uh, it’s hard for me to describe that tune. At first I couldn’t, I couldn’t get a, get a feeling for it.” (Levi Stubbs)

“‘Bernadette’ is a tune that I didn’t think I could do at all. You know, it really didn’t have a message for me until there was, there was an Italian fella came over, to teach us some Italian lyrics to this particular tune. And through his explaining, uh, you know, about what some of the various words meant, you know, and the significance of them in Italian, it gave me a better outlook on, on the thing. And, uh, through that, I was able to get a little message across.” (Levi Stubbs)

— “Standing In the Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette,” the Four Tops, 1966 and 1967.

“That, um, that was a good beginning because I had no idea that, uh, Tammi was as good a singer, as, uh, she of course turned out to be.”

— “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, 1967.

“This is when Holland-Dozier-Holland decided to go more mechanical and do weird sounds and things like that, and I believe it came about because of, uh, the Beatles era, which, um, everyone — writers, producers, singers — were influenced by the Beatles, quite a bit, I must say. … ‘Reflections’ is a very weird, weird song.” (Mary Wilson)

— “Reflections,” Diana Ross and the Supremes, 1967.

“The first date we sang, uh, professionally, uh, was at the Y, the YWCA, for a tea. And it, um, came off all right. And from there it seemed like things, we just got, um, um, nice breaks and so forth. And, uh, we didn’t have a name at the time. Everybody’s assignment was to go home and try to come up with a name that would kind of suit the group.” (A delightfully bubbly Gladys Knight)

— “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, 1967.

“A lot of people thought we were talking about getting high, which we weren’t. We were talking about just a state of being.” (Otis Williams)

— “Cloud Nine,” the Temptations, 1968.

“It’s so much fun working with, uhhh, the boy groups. Because, um, you kind of put them uptight and they put you uptight. In other words, it was like a challenge and everybody was trying to outdo everybody, so you came up with some great material. Especially like on ad libs and endings and stuff like that.” (Diana Ross)

— “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations, 1968.

“I never thought a great deal about ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’ uh, after recording it. I had, I had no idea that it was going to sell as many records as it did. In fact, I wasn’t too optimistic about it.”

— “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye, 1968.

“We started to recording, and I told him, I said, ‘Man, this ain’t my bag, man,’ … He said, ‘Will you just record the record, Junior?’ and I said, ‘All right, man.'” (Jr. Walker, on a persistent songwriter, likely Johnny Bristol or Harvey Fuqua)

— “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, 1969.

“I don’t know what that is on the beginning of, uh, ‘Psychedelic Shack’ because it has that funny yow sound and then it goes into the beat, you know, but, uh, I’ve learned by being in the business and being around that, that, uh, record-buying people, they like things that’s, uh, different and sounds unusual.” (Otis Williams)

— “Psychedelic Shack,” the Temptations, 1970.

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All from “The Motown Story,” 1970.

It’s out of print, but is available in somewhat different form as “The Motown Story, Volume 1: The 1960s.” This 2003 CD release has only 42 cuts, not 58, and doesn’t include the Berry Gordy sound bite, “I’ll Be Doggone,” “Standing In the Shadows Of Love,” “Bernadette” or “Psychedelic Shack.” It also has some cuts not on the 1970 set.

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Filed under January 2009, Sounds