Long before he would become the king of Latin Soul, Joe Bataan was born Bataan Nitollano in East Harlem and in his teenage years headed up a street gang called The Dragons, according to a 2009 interview with Blues and Soul. As a result of his days in the Dragons, he was incarcerated at Coxsachie Correctional Facility and it was there that he discovered an interest in music. Upon his release in 1965, he formed his first group, Joe Bataan and the Latin Swingers, and the group was quickly signed to Fania Records. Gypsy Woman is the title track from their first release in 1967.
While Bataan is credited with writing this version, Curtis Mayfield’s group The Impressions released a song called Gypsy Woman in 1961. The lyrics are nearly identical, though the Impressions version doesn’t have people chanting “she smokes pot!” in the background or the Latin percussion that ties this song together in my opinion. Bataan would eventually help found the label Salsoul, for which he would record a few albums including this early hip hop song Rap-o Clap-o from 1979. Incidentally if you listen to Rap-o Clap-o and don’t enjoy it then kindly close this browser window and never return to this blog again, as it is not for you and very little in this world is.
Though they definitely have a grown-up sound, The Equatics released their only album Doin It!!! while they were still in high school. Bassist Benjamin Crawford was the catalyst that brought the Equatics together. A cadre of young musicians in Hampton, Virginia formed the nucleus of the group, and they played a mixture of funk, soul, and (perhaps surprisingly) prog rock, as Crawford was a big fan of Yes. After playing gigs near Hampton, the group decided to enter the Pepsi New Sounds of 72 contest, which involved sending a demo jingle to the company for the chance to win time in the studio. They were featured in the top 10 and recorded their jingle. Pepsi then followed up on the promotion by asking people to send in bottle caps along with votes for their favorite jingle, but this time the prize was much bigger: the chance to record an album at Pepsi’s expense.
The group’s campaign to get people to vote for their jingle paid off, and the result was this album. Once they got in the studio, the band’s manager (and Crawford’s football coach) Frank Johnson tried to move the band towards soul standards like Ain’t No Sunshine, in part because Johnson had always dreamed of being a soul singer. In fact, Johnson provides the vocals on this and another great track from the album Merry Go Round. The group cut the record in a hurry, not even bothering to name the label that was to be responsible for the record. Very few copies of the album were ever distributed, and most were limited to the Richmond, VA area until it became a favorite of crate-digging collectors. Differences between Crawford and Johnson eventually led the group to break up, leaving behind just this one record.
If you’re looking for the original I can only offer you good luck, but Doin It!!! was reissued in 2010 by Now Again Records. If you’re in the mood for more soul cut by young folks, check out I’m Not Ready For Love, which I wrote about a while back.
Though it’s hard to tell based on how good this album sounds, this is the only recorded collaboration between Hailu Mergia and Dahlak Band. Mergia was a member of Walias, which had regular gig at the Hilton in Addis Ababa. Because of a military curfew, patrons of the Hilton bar who weren’t guest would be stranded until sunrise, though with Walias playing it’s hard to imagine they minded too much.
Dahlak were a popular backing band around the same time, and they hooked up with Mergia because other members of Walias were busy in the studio with other vocalists. Mergia was eager to follow-up on his the success of his previous record with Walias, Tche Belew, so he recorded Wede Harer Guzo with Dahlak in the nearby Ghion Hotel, where Dahlak Band were the regulars. The album features instrumental arrangements of a number of well-known Ethiopian tunes as well as original compositions. While Mergia asserts these arrangements were quite popular in Ethiopia at the time, it was not widely distributed and may have been remained a local favorite if Mergia himself hadn’t sent the tape to Awesome Tapes From Africa, who restored and re-issued the recording to its former glory a few years ago.
Word to the wise: before you tell someone “I love The Final Solution,” it’s best to make sure they know you are referring to the soul band and not something more sinister. Alas, in the age of Internet Nazis I suppose one has to be careful, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from sharing this soul gem resurrected by none other than Chicago’s Numero Group.
I Don’t Care comes from a soundtrack that The Final Solution recorded for a blaxploitation film called Brotherman that was never actually completed. According to an NY Sun article about the album upon its reissue, writer and producer Carl Wolfolk had the masters stashed away since the film was shelved until Numero brought them back from the dead in 2008. While I couldn’t find much in the way of info for the members of The Final Solution, Carl Wolfolk was a prolific producer of soul music in the 60s and 70s. Probably his most oft-performed song was Can I Change My Mind, which has been covered by Tyrone Davis, Willie Clayton, and Boz Scaggs. If you’re looking for this release on cassette that is sadly out of print, but CD, LP, and digital download are still available. I’m starting a new job soon and once I get paid this release is definitely on my list.
This song might be titled My Song, but it is probably better known as the sample used on Kanye West’s I Wonder from 2007’s Graduation. Labi Siffre was born Claudius Afolabi Siffre in Britain, and has had a long career in both music and literature. My Song comes from his third studio release, Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying, which was put out on Pye Records in 1972. It seems like Siffre is one of those artists better known for the work he inspired than the music he produced himself. Madness reached number 4 on the U.K. charts with a cover of It Must Be Love and Jay-Z, Eminem, and Wu-Tang Clan have sampled Siffre’s I Got The. While these may be more well-known, Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying deserves far more attention because it is a joy from start to finish, blending Siffre’s beautiful tenor with an excellent ear for melody and guitar that is as smooth as it is soulful. In particular, Cannock Chase and the title track are both excellent tunes in the vein of My Song. He recorded a number of albums in the 70s, including participating in the 1978 Eurovision context, and continued at a slower clip through the 80s and 90s. Perhaps that has something to do with writing three books of poetry in the 90s along with a play and a collection of essays. This album was re-issued in 2016 by new-wave label Demon Records, which has put out a number of records from Marc Bolan & T.Rex, Elvis Costello, and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
The three members of The Tonettes travelled to San Antonio from the wilds of Odessa, TX with their English teacher-turned-manager Virgil Johnson to record this and another single for Abe Epstein’s Dynamic Label. Despite its mild reception in the mid-1960s, its one of the strongest tracks on a great Numero group compilation, Eccentric Soul: The Dynamic Label. “My Heart Can Feel the Pain” was penned by Johnson, who also formed a male soul group called The Velvets when he heard some male students harmonizing in the hallway. While the Tonettes only recorded one 45, The Velvets lasted a bit longer and were eventually signed to Monument Records. I’d recommend picking up the compilation because it’s good from start to finish. It’s available on vinyl, CD, and digitally on the Numero Group website.