Lulu Impersonates Sly Stone

Jon Landau, in his thoughtful analysis of the contemporary pop scene – “Rock 1970” – for the December 10, 1970 edition of Rolling Stone, made the following statement about Billy Preston’s former writing partner:

“While it may be sacrilegious to say it, the most influential black artist of recent years, with the possible exception of Jimi Hendrix, has undoubtedly been Sly and the Family Stone.  In the early R&B days it was not uncommon for songs to have one chord.  Sly has revitalized that concept and recharged it with contemporary rhythms and a group singing approach that is a pure delight.  His versatility and capacity to synthesize seems almost endless.

Both the singing and the rhythm have been completely absorbed by Motown, with the Temptations making greater use of the former and the Jackson 5 modeling themselves on the latter.  Without ‘Dance to the Music’ there never would have been ‘I Want You Back.’  His influence has been vast.  Even Lulu has cut her Sly imitation of ‘Hum A Little Song From My Heart [sic].'”

Have a listen for yourself – it might make you chuckle:

 “Hum A song (From your Heart)”     Lulu (with The Dixie Flyers)    1970

Lulu, you might recall, was part of a late 60s/early 70s trend of prominent female vocalists, who tried to tap into the commercial heat coming from the US South by recording albums in such places as Muscle Shoals, inspired no doubt by the critical success of Dusty Springfield’s classic Dusty in Memphis LP and its Top 10 hit, “Son of a Preacher Man.”

Mexican EP

Lulu EP“Hum a Song” would be the A-side of an Atlantic single that almost hit the Top 40 in the US and Canada.   “Hum a Song” would also enjoy release on a 4-song Mexican EP that, curiously, surrounds this track with three songs from New Routes — her previous LP – an album that features guitar work by Duane Allman.  Check out Duane’s soulful opening lines on the track “Sweep Around Your Own Back Door”:

“Sweep Around Your Own Back Door”     Lulu     1970

Just occurred to me that this is the third song from a critical 12-month period straddling the years 1969-1970  that has to do with “cleaning up” one’s own “back yard” — Elvis’s “Clean Up Your Own Back Yard” and Dion DiMucci’s “Your Own Back Yard.”   Spooky.

Billy Preston & Sly Stone: ’66

Two electric keyboard innovators who helped move popular music forward with their “futuristic” sounds – Billy Preston and Sly Stone – collaborated briefly in a musical partnership that produced this A-side, “Can’t She Tell”:

“Can’t She Tell”     Billy Preston (featuring Sly Stone)     1966

Jointly written by Billy Preston & Sly Stone and produced by David Axelrod, “Can’t She Tell” was recorded in 1966 and released as a 7-inch the following year.

Billy Preston 45_edited-13 other songs written by the two musicians — “It’s Got to Happen”; “Free Funk”; and “Advice” — would be included on the Sly Stone-arranged Billy Preston album from 1966, Wildest Organ in Town!.

Billy Preston LPIs it possible Billy and Sly first met at the 1966 recording session for (Grace Slick &) Great Society’s “Someone to Love” / “Free Advice” original indie 45 (pre-Columbia), a single that Sly produced and for which Billy played percussion.

Link to Richard Harrington’s tribute to Billy Preston from the Washington Post website.  Key quote:

“In bootlegged [Let It Be/Get Back] session tapes, one can hear several heated arguments between John Lennon and Paul McCartney about making Preston a group member (Lennon was all for it). That would have made Preston officially “the fifth Beatle,” a title he was not loath to exploit over the next three decades. Perhaps as consolation, “Get Back,” the only Beatles single to enter the British charts at No.1, was credited to “the Beatles with Billy Preston” — the first and only time the band shared the spotlight with a sideman. Preston also accompanied the Beatles during their famous rooftop gig in London, the Beatles’ last public performance.”

“Mighty Time”: New Riders + Sly Stone & Jerry Garcia

Oh, what a mighty find at the local thrift shop last week:  the title track from this 1975 album by New Riders of the Purple Sage – with special guests, Sly Stone & Jerry Garcia:

Skip Battin:  Bass, Vocals & Percussion
Buddy Cage:  Pedal Steel & Vocal
John Dawson:  Guitar, Vocals, Autoharp & Mouth Harp, et al.
Spencer Dryden:  Drums, Percussion & Vocal
David Nelson:  Guitar, Vocal & Percussion
Sly Stone:  Organ, Piano & Vocal
Jerry Garcia:  Guitar

Behind the mixing console is none other than Bob Johnston, who famously produced Dylan and Cash in the 1960s.  Oh, What a Mighty Time would be the band’s last album for almighty Columbia, who would not issue any 45s from this LP.

“Mighty Time” written by Don Nix, who is probably best known for having written blues standard, “Goin’ Down” and whose session work as a saxophonist – as exemplified on sax & organ instrumental, “Last Night” – helped define the Stax sound.

George Harrison & Don Nix off Catalina Island, 1971

George Harrison & Don Nix