James and Bobby Purify

Shake a Tail Feather! (Sundazed 2002)


On one hand, cousins James and Bobby Purify were quite indebted to the feel good, soulful pop of Sam and Dave, but their performances were more complex and conflicted to the lovely, but one-dimensional music of their more famous influence. Yes, the Purify’s mined the Stax sound while recording at Muscle Shoals and many of their best tunes are toe-tappers that rival any other southern soul act of the 60s, but their melancholy moments are what set them apart from their peers.

Their most popular tune is by far their most moving. “I’m Your Puppet” is a Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham number that epitomizes the joys of total surrender to love. Obviously, there is fairly obvious metaphor at work here as they compare themselves to simple puppets at the behest of a mystery lover, but there is something sort of romantic and sad about this tune. Their depiction of infatuation can be interpreted as a puppy dog ode to the lengths a man will go to be loved, but the lyrics also celebrate the fact that this love can “make you do right or make you do wrong” as well. I always felt their was an undercurrent of masochism that would endear this to any r&b fans in the throes of a BDSM fetish. As usual, it is probably a better example of my dumb ass looking too deeply into the lyrics, but I like to view it as a parable about the double-edged nature of passion.

I’m also a big fan of “You Left the Water Running” which is another Penn/Oldham number that buries a wallow in misery in catchy instrumentation. Basically, it is about a woman who cheats on her man and turns on a spigot that unleashes a neverending torrent of tears. The tears flow until waves of anger overtake him and he issues a warning that she will regret her infidelity and there will be hell to pay when the bill for these wasted tears arrive. I’m always such a sucker for morbid, self-destructive messages wrapped in frilly pop confections, so this one is simply perfect. Overall, this collection of singles and b-sides should appeal to Stax junkies and patrons of the church of James Carr and Solomon Burke. It is such a joyous collection, but one that invites you to dig a bit deeper and see the tears that lurk beneath our grins.

On a completely unrelated note, I love that James eventually replaced his cousin with another Bobby and went on his merry way. I knew there was something cutthroat lying underneath it all.

Darrell Banks-Is Here!

August 19, 2008

Darrell Banks

Is here! (Atco 1967)


This is an album of pleading. Darrell Banks may venture into upbeat territory and belt a few over a bed of Stax horns and rhythm guitar, but his specialty is emoting to his heart’s content. He belongs in the esteemed company of contemporaries like James Carr, Sam Cooke, Solomon Burke and Otis Redding, but his life was cut short when he was shot by an off-duty Detroit police officer who was cuckolding Banks. He only released two albums and seven singles, but his limited output is so heartsick and yearning for love that it makes his untimely death even more tragic.

Darrell Banks Is Here! may be his debut album, but his weathered and weary voice sounds as if he has recorded dozens more and been wronged more times than he can bear. The highlight and most painful track is “I’m Gonna Hang My Head and Cry” which captures the feeling one has when they fuck up a relationship and finally realize that you only get to screw up once and it will never be the same again. Innocence has been lost and he knows he can never regain it.

“Here Come the Tears” is another plea for a return to the status quo. I view it as a sequel to the aforementioned song as Banks becomes obsessed with the memories of this woman he lost long ago. His love is still strong, but there is no way to bridge the gap to when this love was mutual. He reads old letters and bawls like a baby and prays for a way to fix the cracks and make it right. However, there is a resignation in his voice that signals a realization that he is forever doomed to only have mere letters to remind him of better days. He pleads in vain, but cannot help doing so because he cannot reconcile the fact that he ruined a good thing.

There was an abundance of classic r&b albums released during this time, but none were as desperate and full of remorse as Darrell Banks Is Here.

Wynonie Harris

Good Rocking Tonight


Let’s take a break from the bearded prog, psych and wussified indie pop for a moment and pay tribute to one of the unsung forefathers of rock and roll. Wynonie Harris got his start during wartime with some guest spots with Lucky Millinder’s jazz and big band outfit and performed at the Apollo. They had a falling out and Wynonie headed for the West Coast where he embarked on a solo career that resulted in fifteen top ten hits between 1946 and 1952. His version of “Good Rocking Tonight” was especially popular and it easily bests Elvis Presley’s version by a country mile.

I first encountered Mr. Harris’ music on an afternoon in Savannah, GA where it was so oppressively humid it could rouse fungus from your knickers. I was quite hungover and involved in a shameful drive home from some long-forgotten peccadillo. While listening to the local oldies station, a happy-go-lucky, raunchy number called “Bloodshot Eyes” blared from my meager minivan and it spoke to me in an embarrassing way. It deals with his frustration with a drunken lover who has used up the last ounce of Wynonie’s patience. I especially loved the imagery of the chorus.

I used to spend my money, to make you look real sweet
I wanted to be proud of you when we walked down the street
Now dont ask me to dress you up, in satin and in silk
Your eyes look like two cherries in a glass of bottled milk

Wynonie’s bluesy, gruff hollering goes perfectly with the raunchy tunes he covers here. It’s not hard to predict what you are in for with titles like “Keep On Churnin’ Til’ the Butter Comes”, “I Like My Baby’s Pudding” and “I Want My Fanny Brown.” Predictable as it me be with its steady stream of double entendres, Good Rocking Tonight is a damn fine listen with a glass of whiskey and a scenic porch on which to sit.