Music Photography SkeletonPete Says

Soaked In Soul @ Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Singer Ellis Hooks Pours Out His Soul in the Pouring Rain

Didn’t It Rain…
It never stopped raining over Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, only came down harder as the evening progressed, but an impressively large crowd of soul music enthusiasts attending the final show of the 2011 Out Of Doors concert series would not be deterred by the record breaking deluge. What they received for their stalwartness was a night of superlative performances and a historical sense of the music that they love. Sponsored by Toyota, the 28th Annual American Roots Music Festival held in Lincoln Center’s bandshell offered four groups; each performing their unique slice of the soul and blues genre.

Opening act Big Funky Sam, fronted by Trombonist Sam Williams (Dirty Dozen Brass Band), warmed up the audience with grooves of their New Orleans hometown also dipping into some Sly & The Family Stone style funk and even a snippet of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” to keep it current. I think the great set by BFS convinced the tentative crowd that this would be a night worth weathering. The North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther and Cody Dickinson, having paid tribute to their father Jim during a panel discussion earlier in the day, served up a set of electrified “hill country” blues, and The Barkays Revue featuring founder member James Alexander on bass guitar gave a pocket history of 60’s and 70’s soul. They performed everything from “Sweet Soul Music” to “Theme From Shaft” and their own eternal crowd pleaser “Soulfinger”.

I’ll be featuring festival panel discussion details and more information on and photos of the opening acts as the week progresses. Keep an eye out.

Lincoln center, steve Cropper
Steve Copper at Lincoln Center Out of doors Performance – August 14, 2011

Dedicated, The “5” Royales Tribute
The festival headliner was Steve Cropper, the guitarist of Stax Records house band Booker T. & The MG’s, that you know from his stinging “Soul Man” notes (“Play It Steve”) and his sweet melodic slides on Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay”. Cropper debuted music from his new release “Dedicated”, a look at the music of the pioneering “5” Royales and guitarist Lowman “Pete” Pauling. “You are truly dedicated” he told the crowd huddled under umbrellas, ponchos, slickers and plastic bags. Cropper was surrounded by a stellar stage cast including bassist David Hood, drummer Anton Fig and producer Jon Tiven on guitar and saxophone. Tiven co-produced and co-wrote much of the music on the Cropper and Felix Cavaliere album “Nudge It Up A Notch” from 2008. Aside from Fig, this was a totally different line-up from the “Music of Stax Records” show covered here recently. They kicked off the set by launching into a monster version of “Green Onions” with Leon Pendarvis drivin’ the Hammond B3 that quickly lit any dampened spirits. As the performance built Cropper and band made every drop of rain the audience had sponged up worth the experience.

Singers Ellis Hooks, Dylan LeBlanc, with special guests Bettye Lavette and Maxine Brown took turns at center stage singing classic numbers like “(In The) Midnight Hour”, “99 and a Half Won’t Do”, “(Sitting on the) Dock of the Bay”, along with selections from the “5” Royales tribute. Bettye came on stage surprised to see all the “crazy people” still out in the rain to sing “Say It”. “Give me a chance here” she said “I learned these songs when I was about 2 years old.” She was joined for a call and response version of “Don’t Be Ashamed” by Ellis. Dylan was given a healthy hunk of the middle of the set, getting a chance to sing the “5” Royales torch song “Someone Made You For Me”, gospel inspired “Come On and Save Me”, as well as “Dock of the Bay”. Dylan, just turned 21, grew up around the Muscle Shoals music scene, spending time at FAME studios where his Dad had a publishing deal and it’s clear that he has an innate intuition for the style.

It was a thrilling moment to hear Maxine hit the a-cappella opening line of “Dedicated To the One I Love” as she entered the stage. The song is given a quirky spin on the “Dedicated” album behind Lucinda Williams’ drawl, while Maxine rendered it in sparking girl group fashion. Ellis returned to the stage stomping through the puddles at the edge and intoning “let it rain, let it rain”, like a gospel preacher. He closed out the evening with the Royale’s “30 Second Lover” and Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood”. The band mercifully didn’t make the sopping crowd wait for the encore with Ellis getting his wish to sing “Soul Man” with Cropper. Steve exited with a wry quip to the audience as they dispersed. “I prayed for good weather, looks like I got it”, and it truly was fair skies in the hearts of everyone who participated in the gathering.

SkeletonPete Says…
Kudos to festival producer Spike Barkin for putting together such a great line up of acts that gave the audience a taste of the varied flavors of soul music as presented by many of the people who invented it as well as those who have followed in their footsteps. A huge round of applause also needs to go to the Lincoln Center Out Of Doors stage crew who managed to get this show presented to a faithful crowd under the worst of weather conditions. Thank you, all.

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The Music of Stax Records @ Highline Ballroom, NYC

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A Brotherhood of Soul

On Sunday evening June 26, 2011 Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom heated up for a soul revue featuring The Music of Stax Records. With the neo-soul movement in full bloom and folks intent on partying like it’s 1965, there’s no better time to turn attention to the musicians who originally forged that sound. If you hear song titles like “Soul Man”, “Green Onions” and “Dock of the Bay” you could probably sing, hum or whistle those tunes in a heartbeat. They have become part of the world’s cultural memory. If you hear the names Steve Cropper or Donald “Duck” Dunn, the response might be less automatic. In truth those tunes and so many others like “In the Midnight Hour” would not exist without those gentlemen and their cohorts of the time organist Booker T. Jones and their drummer the late Al Jackson Jr..

As The MG’s and part of the “house band” for Stax Records in Memphis Tennesee, these musicians built on the promise Elvis made ten years earlier with a mixture of country and blues that came to be known as “soul music”. It’s not the Motown kind of soul music which was quite purposefully pop in comparison. Stax stayed a lot closer to the chicken coop and while the label’s stars could spruce it up in shark skin and mohair with the best of them you always got the feeling that Wilson Picket might cut you; Diana Ross – well – probably not.

Raise A Hand!

The evening opened with Cropper and Dunn, working with keyboardist Lester Snell and Paul Schaefer Late Night Band drummer Anton Fig, playing some of their classic instrumentals. They effectively laid out the signature bass grooves, buzzing Hammond B3 and stinging guitar licks of “Hip-Hug-Her”, “Booker-Loo”, “Time Is Tight”, “Soul Limbo” and of course “Green Onions”. Cropper, showcasing his sparse playing style, made every note count on the melody of “Summertime”. “Duck” and Steve have been life long friends and play with an intuitive ease to prove it. It’s all done with an almost imperceptible nod, a half smile, or sometimes a bemused stare. It’s fun to watch these guys having fun.

When singer Eddie Floyd was introduced to the stage and launched into “Raise A Hand” the show shifted to high gear. Just one day past his 74th birthday Floyd was a dynamo traversing the stage continuously, working up a sweat and pulling pretty ladies out of the audience to dance with him. The audience responded in kind, and quickly got on their feet dancing along to classic tunes like “Knock On Wood” and “634-5789 (Soulsville USA)”, both authored by Floyd. “On A Saturday Night” had the audience singing along oblivious to the fact that it was really a “school night”.

Play It Steve!

As expected set ender “Soul Man” blew the lid off the place. Current recognition of the Stax label’s monumental contribution music can be traced in part to the continued success of Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi’s “The Blues Brothers”. A loving and hilarious homage to the music they loved. “It’s always on cable TV” Cropper noted. “New” Blues Brothers joined Floyd on stage for this number, trading lead lines, mock boxing and ultimately genuflecting to kiss the ring of the soul pontif.

The band gifted the Highline crowd with a surprise performance of “Dock of the Bay” as the encore; the posthumously released Otis Redding song apparently one that Floyd had declined to cover. But, with a pinch of “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)” thrown in for spice it turned into a fitting and respectful remembrance and closed the show with the audience whistling its plaintive refrain.

A Royale Salute

Steve Cropper’s new album titled “Dedicated” is due for release in early August. It’s a salute to the music of early R&B group The “5” Royales and guitarist Pete Pauling. The star studded CD includes performances by Steve Winwood, Bettye Lavette, Sharon Jones, Brian May, Delbert McClinton Spooner Oldham, B B King, Lucinda Williams, Steve Jordan. Promises to be an exceptional listen. Pre-order link is below.