Week 14: Philly Uprising

By: Lafayette

Apr 10 2010

Tags: ,

Category: 1970, 1971


Welcome to Week 14!

Since my schedule is still pretty hectic, I’m more than just a little grateful for this week’s much needed assistance from our very good friend BeyondBodyAndSoul (I’m sure you all remember his Paul Owens contribution from last year), who this week comes to the rescue with some dusty 7″ vinyls – all of them with an important common denominator: Nat Turner Rebellion!

And to be completely honest, this fiery post was supposed to be up like months ago. Keeping this soulful goodness away from your ears longer than necessary is almost inexcusable…so without further ado I hand the word over to BB&S:


And your name it might be Caesar sure,
And got your cannon can shoot a mile or more,
But you can’t keep the world from moving around
Nor Old Nat Turner from gaining ground.



Being born and raised in Philadelphia, and knowing what I know about the city of brotherly love, it is not at all a surprise to me that our city commands such a profound musical legacy. There is something about the many moods of this town that has always fed the creative urge of sensitive people.  Sometimes it is joyous and hopeful, other times it’s bittersweet and other times it can be both gothic and dark. Many people would defer to Gamble & Huff’s better known stable of artists on Philadelphia International when thinking of the signature sound of Philadelphia during the early 70’s. While the recognition of artists like Billy Paul or The Three Degrees as Philly institutions is certainly well-earned, there were other sounds out of Philly during this period – a little more raw, a little more heavy but just as compelling. Groups like the Brothers of Hope, Broad Street Gang, and the Nat Turner Rebellion may not be household names but they have succeeded in creating sounds that evoke the soulful truth of our city.

We turn our attention specifically to the work of the Nat Turner Rebellion and feature six of their tracks for your enjoyment. The original Nat Turner, sometimes referred to as ‘The Prophet’, lead a slave revolt in 1831. The appearance of a solar eclipse acted as the catalyst for his vision of the time that “was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first”.

In discussing the Nat Turner Rebellion the musical group, it seems appropriate to start with their paean to Nat Turner the individual in my favorite track from this group “Tribute to a Slave”. Two things may grab your attention at the beginning: a raw and heavy bass line and the sounds of the electric sitar followed by the line “My friend Nat…though our eyes never met”. The appearance of the electric coral sitar in soul music during this period is just another example of some of the creativity and cross-pollination of sounds and genres that was the hallmark of classic 60’s and early 70’s music. While my mind went to Freda Payne’s ‘Band of Gold’ when hearing the electric sitar, it is also impossible to not think of the Stylistics and the Spinners. It is also here where we find our first link to what little information is available about the Nat Turner Rebellion. Songwriting credit for “Tribute to a Slave” is attributed to Joe B. Jefferson who also penned some of the Spinner’s bigger hits. I’ve heard that Joe B Jefferson is, in fact, the brother of Major Harris who took on vocal duties with the Nat Turner Rebellion before replacing Randy Cain as singer of the Delfonics in 1971. It seems like a safe bet, then, that most of these tracks are recorded pre-1971, but it is hard to be sure. Certainly, a lot of their output seems to live squarely in the psychedelic soul sounds of 1969-1970 – the Funky 16 Corner website astutely identified the similarities between the Nat Turner Rebellion and the Whitfield production of the Temptations during this period.

Just listen to this excerpt:

While “Tribute to a Slave” is at the top of my list, ‘Getting Higher’ is awfully close. I love the organ and bass opening riff before the entrance of the vocals, how about you? As much as I enjoy the music on this track, however, it would be criminal to not consider the wild lyrical content. “Some kind of weird thing” is indeed happening. Dinosaurs and cavemen getting high? Doctors and lawyers too? If the dinosaurs do indeed get the munchies afterwards, here’s hoping they eat the lawyers.

I also enjoy “Plastic People” immensely – I particularly like how the music switches up at 2:42 after the line “from this point on we will no longer sing…we will talk”. The electric sitar is back again as a Wurlitzer appears to provide a nice rhythmic backdrop for a warning that “freaks are on their way!” Be advised that these freaks are “wakin’ and bakin’” and therefore could very well be the cast of characters from the previous song. Does anyone remember that Orlon’s song from Philly that goes “where do all the hippies meet? South street…south street…” Perhaps the guys from the NTR decided to check it out for themselves and do a little field reporting. Say what you will about the ‘freaks’ of the counter-cultural movement – there is still no way that anyone, and that goes for you too dear reader, would ever want to replace the vitality of Philadelphia’s south street during those days with the corporate graveyard of dead souls that it is fast becoming in the new millennium.

Finally, we have two remaining tracks – the evocative ballad ‘Can’t go on living’ as well as the song taken from that old phrase ‘laugh to keep from crying’. The latter track really does remind me of the Temptations sound from this period, perhaps more then any other offering from NTR. Regarding the message: In the cauldron of early 70’s Philadelphia, I suppose a little bit of delusion could go a long way in terms of self-preservation. Sun Ra’s description of the city of brotherly love as ‘Death’s Headquarters’ may have been a little heavy-handed, but the mindless violence in our streets these last few summers makes the line about “I got to try to keep from dying” sadly prescient. In terms of the mechanics of the track itself, there appears to be some structural similarities between this track and Plastic People – particularly the change which roughly happens at the exact 2:42 point in both songs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this review – I only wish I could’ve supplied you with more actual information about the band itself. I think you will agree that the Nat Turner Rebellion deserves much overdue recognition. I will leave you with the music to speak for itself as well as a line from Plastic People:


“It’s time for us children to leave here –
we hope each and every one of you out there
as a people have been able to relate
with what we are trying to say…”


Big thanks to BeyondBodyAndSoul for this awesome contribution – and for the thoroughly entertaining write-up!

Unfortunately, the Nat Turner Rebellion never released a full album, and apart from the six tracks we’re offering this week, I only know of six more: “Ruby Lee”, “You Are My Sun Sign”, “Handle With Care”, “Never Too Late”, “The Robot Pt. 1” and “The Robot Pt. 2”. All six cuts released in 1972 or later, by which time they had dropped the “Rebellion” part of their name – more polished, less gritty and no more electric sitars (well, the only exception might just be the weird novelty type track “The Robot”, which to some still could be seen as pretty gritty). But hey, It’s all good of course! Just listen to this snippet of “Ruby Lee”:

So if you want to add some more cuts to your collection for that “full album feel”, simply click right here to buy the extra tracks (at a mere $0.99 a piece), all available on the 1998 compilation “Philly Groove – Early Singles”!

If you’re longing for the original Nat Turner  7″ vinyls, here’s a good place to start your quest! It’s kinda interesting that it’s Nat Turner Rebellions first and last vinyl singles that are the hardest to come by. I’ve only found one copy of “Tribute To A Slave” ($140)…and to find a copy of the original “The Robot Pt. 1 & 2” feels like a complete waste of time…it’s extinct! So I guess them reissue tracks really are our best option.

Once again, mad props to BB&S for sharing the goodness…but first and foremost, Nat Turner Rebellion – thank you for the music!

See y’all next week!

/Laf & The B’s

41 comments on “Week 14: Philly Uprising”

  1. Enjoy! And make sure to show some love to BB&S! And please, remember to leave a comment!

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  2. Definitely getting this one! The horn section from the tribute-clip…OMG!

  3. Thank you.

  4. Gonna comment before I even listen to this piece. This has me drooling. I’m really wondering about this one. There a places still in the states where the name Nat Turner still brings up feeling of ill will and makes people cringe with distaste. For those outside the states, this guy, Prophet Turner, is the twin brother of John Brown.. lol.. (look him up and he will have two horns and a tail…so some would have you think). But anyway, being a long time student of Black History, I’d listen to this one even if it wasn’t posted on 4BB….glad for the opportunity, because I’ve never heard of the group but I know with the personell mentioned……it’s off the chain. Now for the main course. Thanks to all that made this possible. I salute you.

  5. Welcome back brothers. Such a great Philly Band.. I like the organ and the bass line and the whole thing is amazing. Big thanks to BeyondBodyAndSoul for the contribution and the wonderful write up.

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lafay1. Lafay1 said: 4BB Week 14 post is up…Philly style! Check it out: http://bit.ly/cnKkDK […]

  7. Whew! So glad this finally got posted! Funky goodness! Thanks to BB&S for the wonderful contribution!

  8. Thanks so much.

  9. NICE to see the brothers back!
    Great choice, always appreciate Whitfield-style funk!

  10. A very interesting read indeed… Thank you for these superb 45’s that I will certainly be adding to the playstack whilst studying this week.

    Incidentally, I doubt that it is an original, but I have a copy of “The Robot”, listed on the label as being performed by The Family on North Bay records. There is no release date info on the disc, but maybe you can help a brother out and let me know if it is indeed an original. Sadly, the record is hashed so I doubt that it is worth much, but it is a great track nonetheless. I also have the 45 “Family Affair” b/w “Nation Time”, released by the same group on the same label. Any insight? Thanks in advance.

    Peace and blessings.

  11. OOH Snap! Thanks for the upload. The clip was dope and I can’t wait to here the rest.

  12. Thanks for this great share Lafayette and Beyondbodyandsoul, really appreciated.

  13. What’s good fam. I was wondering when u guys were gonna come back. Anyways welcome back and many thanks to Laf & Beyondbodyandsoul for the Philly soul.

  14. You’re welcome, Paros! 😉

  15. Glad to see you guys in action!! Can’t wait to hear this. Much thanks for the contribution BBS!!

  16. Thanks for the info, Paros… I was listening to the Philly Groove comps this morning and figured out that the original has no lyrics. Of course I will try to find a copy of the 45, although I know my search will be in vain 😦

    Oh well…

  17. thanks for sharing – great stuff

  18. Props to BB&S for this great post and to the brothers for being back!

    *turning the volume of the amplifier to 30*

  19. @vincent again. http://2000things.blogspot.com/2009/11/family-do-robot-part-1.html .. its a small world.. and i think you will find this is the same joey jefferson http://wegofunk.blogspot.com/search?q=joey+jefferson

  20. Soul,Funk and Fuzz……………..what more can a man ask for??
    Great selection.
    Cheers Niall

  21. I have a couple of Philly groove comps featuring this outfit and Major Harris. But this is an extraordinary accumulation of their output. Thoroughly looking forward to familiarising myself with this relatively unknown band to me. And the title of the band now makes more sense thanks to BeyondBodyAndSoul great write-up supporting their wonderul post. And great to see you guys back on the block. You’ve been missed for sure.

  22. thank you for this great share!

  23. What I wouldn’t give for this unbelievable collection of music you have been presenting! Great job and thx!

  24. Thanks, this is fire!!

  25. Thanks for the share…. nice drop indeed

  26. Thanks for this!

  27. Thanks for this one! Glad yall are doin well! Good to see ya back, this blog will definitely go down in soul/funk/good music history…i can see it now, a few hundred years from now…the music teacher talking about this strange music called “FUNK”

  28. glad to see a return of the brothers. hope all’s well. can’t wait to hear this tasty morsel. thanks again.

  29. awesome thanks guys 🙂

  30. Thank you so much these are gems

  31. <—– wishing for a new post!!! come back!

  32. Thanks for sharing this awesome music and insights with a music junkie and dj. These beats will definitively make the dancefloor bustle!

  33. Ill sounds…Thanx and stay digging!!!

  34. NICE!! Thank you

  35. This is INCREDIBLE. I’m taking a African American studies class and we were just discussing the Nat Turner revolt. This is on point! Hopefully i get the download to work. I’m using a Mac and i’ve always had difficulty opening the zip files. I’ve been gone for the past year but i’m back now. Gotta lot to catch up on. Thanks Laf! Peace

  36. Real rare gems. Thanks for this.

    Big Up!@!

  37. […] also found an old Philly soul band called the Nat Turner Rebellion. Apparently all their records are out-of-print collectors’ items, and even so, some of them […]

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