Week 32: Sonic Pioneers
We’re already into the last hours of Week 32, but better late than never, right?! Since this week has been my last off from work, I’ve been busy cramming as much vacation into it as humanly possible – and it’s been a blast! But now I’m all vacationed out, and almost even look forward to getting back to work (and some decent air conditioning).
Week 32 was supposed to be all about a sweet contribution from our old friend Paros (check back in a couple of days for that), but I just had to sneak this one in first…another favourite discovered this summer – The Gregory James Edition and their 1973 album “Prophets of Soul”. The album is yet another instrumental gem…this summer’s been all about them instrumentals – though not as laid back as the Art Jerry Miller album. This Chicago trio – consisting of Gregory Bibb on keys, James Norris on guitar and Anthony McAllister on drums – goes for the more upfront, hard hitting approach…with a really original take on instrumental soul music.
The best proof of that is found on their renditions of Bill Withers “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Al Green’s “Love & Happiness” – spaced-out, otherworldly, hi-tech grooves led by a fierce Farfisa organ, backed by some funky clavinet, a wah-wahed or crisp Gretsch and some incredibly bangin’ drums. The album holds 3 original songs and 4 covers (apart from the previously mentioned, you’ll also find a cool version of Isaac Hayes “Shaft” and funked-out take on Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Make It Easy On Yourself”) – all killer, no filler! My only complaint is that the album is kinda short. Just 28 minutes long – but they really make every minute count! Check out the opening cut “Brother Marcus” – the mellowest song on the album…just plain beautiful: (Most photos in this preview are from a Google image search with the keyword “Chicago 1973”.)
Oh…yeah, one more thing. This shouldn’t count as a complaint as such, but it’s pretty evident that the art department was in a rush when handling the cover and the liner notes. Firstly, they got the name of the band itself wrong, and thought that they were called Prophets of Soul, because “Gregory James Edition” is handled typographically as the title of the album. Secondly, the back cover is full of spelling errors and the liner notes, damn, they’re something special. My guess is that the band jotted down some notes presenting themselves and the 7 songs on the album, and maybe their scribblings were illegible or too long or something, because the temp secretary who typed them out did a hack job…some of the (unintentionally) funniest reading I’ve done in years…really! Here are some excerpts:
“’Ain’t No Sunshine’ was the initial attention getter for a tremendously talented song writer and performer, Bill Withers. It’s typical of the love a black man feels for his mate.”
“’Grandma Heavy was written by the guitar player after the death of his grandmother. The music is modern rock with the intricate playing of the New Orleans guitar. Older people are all knowing and have the ability to invigorate young people with a tremendous drive for life.”
“Changing Thing is a typical of American life in the last of the 1960’s. Institutions have been torn down; morals, technology, religion, though all have made giant steps forward. The song is based on what Gregory James Edition considers 20th century music to be, chance and game. Chance in that the creator creates and hopes. Games in that the creator follows the rules or guidelines of contemporaries and of musical knowledge…”
See what I mean!? I couldn’t understand half of it! :¬)
Read more of the hilariousness on the hi-res cover scans included with the download.
Evidently this was Gregory James Edition’s one and only album, but Gregory Bibb recorded some solo material later on, and kept doing session work as well, like on the Walter Jackson album “I Want To Come Back As A Song” from 1977. Gregory passed away recently – read the comment from his son on this Youtube clip featuring GJE’s rendition of “Love & Happiness” – and then check out the info provided over at Chi-Sound Records website.
Go get the original 1973 vinyl right here (ranging between $10.90 and $139.99) – where you also find the only other song I know of by the Gregory James Edition…the 7″ single “Sunday Lady”, for only $10! There’s also a $8.99 vinyl reissue available over at Dusty Groove – who describes the album like this: “Rhythms are lean, laidback, and nicely stripped-down – funky, but chilled out – in a kind of a groove that was years ahead of its time, and which is now only finally getting its due. There’s some really heavy drums on the best cuts – hard, but with rhythms that are slightly off-kilter, in a way that makes for a really refreshing groove!”
Gregory, James & Anthony…true prophets of soul – thank you for the music!
(Ps. Found an interesting story about crate digger Matlock’s search for this album – and Gregory James Edition’s influence on the UK jungle/drum’n’bass scene of the late 90’s…a must-read – check it out here! This is also where I borrowed the cover photo featured in the preview clip above! Thanks are due for both!)