Part 2 of Brit’s look at the influences on Van Morrison features the Godfather of Soul, the King of Rock ‘n Soul and some serious sweating…
Few artists, as I noted a few months ago, have been more influential than Van Morrison, and few have been as explicit about their own influences. The song Cleaning Windows namechecked the rootsy American musicians – including Blind Lemon, Lead Belly and Jimmie Rodgers – whose records provided the soundtrack to Van’s carefree days of manual labour and cheap living. Such wallowing in nostalgia is a common theme in Morrison’s oeuvre; another is the attempt to use rhythm and repetition to achieve a state of musical rapture (a great many of Van’s songs climax with him grunting scat-style nonsense over blasting trumpets).
Real Real Gone (above, from the 1990 Enlightenment album) is a joyous example of this mode, driven as it is by an irresistible Cape Jazz-style horn riff and with a lyric celebrating the bliss that only music and night-time can bring – “And Sam Cooke is on the radio/And the night is filled with space / And your fingertips touch my face/ You’re a friend of mine, and I’m real real gone.”
This is the grumpy old misanthrope at his least misanthropic, and fading over the final outro, as if reciting from scripture, comes a litany of classic soul singers and their songs:
Wilson Pickett said:
– “In the midnight hour, that’s
When my love comes tumbling down”
Solomon Burke said:
– “If you need me, why don’t you call me”
James Brown said:
– “When you’re tired of what you got, try me”
Gene Chandler said:
– “There’s a rainbow in my soul”
Let’s hear the originals.
Like so many soul greats, Wilson Pickett (March 18, 1941 – January 19, 2006) learnt to sing in Baptist church choirs. Born in Prattville, Alabama, the fourth of 11 children, he described his mother “the baddest woman in my book…I get scared of her now. She used to hit me with anything, skillets, stove wood — (one time I ran away and) cried for a week. Stayed in the woods, me and my little dog.” Trouble followed Pickett throughout life (incidents included being arrested for yelling death threats while driving a car over the front lawn of the Mayor of Englewood; and a year in jail for hitting a pensioner with his car while drunk) but so did the hits – as a singer and prolific composer. In the Midnight Hour was one of his first, reaching the top of the US R&B charts in 1965.
Wilson Pickett’s first single release, in 1962, was If You Need Me – a song he co-wrote, but it became a hit for another artist. Pickett sent the song on a demo tape to Jerry Wexler, a producer at Atlantic Records, who stitched Pickett up by giving the song to one of the label’s recording artists. Solomon Burke’s version made it to #2 in the R&B chart and remained one his standards throughout his long, colourful career as the ‘King of Rock ‘n Soul’.
Burke made the most of this royal shtick, his stage props including a crown, robes and a throne which strained under his ever-increasing girth (in his twilight years, before his death in 2010, his weight was estimated at between 300 and 400 lbs). His corpulence did not hinder his amorous performance – he was married four times and fathered at least 21 children – siring his first at the age of 14. To his wives he was serially unfaithful (“I was young. Girls were coming from every angle. I couldn’t love them all. But I tried.”) Despite which he felt well qualified to preach the word of God from a crimson throne every third Sunday in a church of his own invention. By the year 2000, Solomon’s Temple: The House of God for All People had over 300 ordained ministers whose job is to “feed the hungry, educate the uneducated and be God’s workers in the vineyard”, and 40,000 parishioners in close to 200 churches across the USA, Canada, and Jamaica.
If Solomon Burke’s story could fill a volume or two, then James Joseph Brown’s could fill a library. A towering figure of black music, a human rights campaigner, a drug abuser and in many ways a truly terrible man, repeatedly arrested for domestic violence. So funky and shouty was Brown’s funky shouty stuff that we sometimes forget that The Godfather of Soul was just that, with a crooning voice to make you weep. I can’t find an exact match for Van’s quote “When you’re tired of what you got, try me”, but this live 1968 version of Try Me is notable not just for the brilliance of the singing, but also for the quite astonishing quantity of sweat produced by Brown’s head…
Eugene Dixon, aka Gene Chandler, aka the Duke of Earl, is the only member of Van’s quartet of soul legends still strutting this earth (born in July 1937 and not dead yet). Duke of Earl (1962) was his biggest and perhaps best-remembered hit (#1 in the US Pop and R&B charts) but he sure made the most of Rainbow, releasing different versions in 1962, 1965 and 1980. Here’s the best one, Rainbow 65. Enjoy!