Zero to 180 kicks off its musical salute to grits with an obvious winner of an instrumental, “Tacos and Grits” by Al Grey:
“Tacos and Grits” Al Grey 1963
The first featured song in Zero to 180’s music & grits series — launching on the heels of Saturday’s big Max Fleischer event at the AFI — happens to be represented on YouTube by exactly one audio clip, one that is illustrated (for mystifying reasons) by a still image of Betty Boop.
Trombone: Al Grey
Piano: John Young
Guitar: Leo Blevins
Bass: Ike Isaacs
Drums: Phil Thomas
Engineer: Ron Malo
Supervisor: Esmond Edwards
Liner Notes: Holmes (Daddy-O) Daylie
A single clause would speak volumes: “Recorded December 17, 1963” – as it says on the cover of Al Grey’s Boss Bone album. One day. Just like Stones Jazz by Joe Pass. Even the debut album by The Beatles would require a handful of recording sessions. Recording for the Boss Bone album would take place at Ter Mar studios – i.e., Chess.
“Tacos and Grits” would be released on Chess subsidiary, Argo, in 1964 — did it chart? Rest assured, Al Grey did register his copyright for “Tacos and Grits” in 1964.
Fish tacos and grits
Good news! “Taco and Grits” would be used as background music to accompany Mr. Fine Wine’s DJ patter on WFMU’s Downtown Soulville radio show on July 11, 2014.
Artists who steadfastly resist to be pidgeonholed – Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown being one such notable example – always pique my curiosity. Music writer, Michael Perry, in his article about Gatemouth Brown from the November-December 2001 issue of “alt-country” magazine, No Depression, describes an independence of spirit so fierce that it immediately commanded my attention:
For 72 of his 77 years, Brown’s career has unfolded over a shifting geography of place and sound, yielding a body of work nearly impossible to categorize. Read the bios and press clippings, and you’ll find references to blues, roots, jazz, Cajun, calypso, zydeco, bluegrass, country, funk, and swing. Ask Gatemouth, and he’ll call it bayou swamp rock. Or border-type country. Or American and world music. Or American music, Texas-style. He plays and leaves the sorting to others. Someone once said his country licks didn’t sound country. ‘What country you talkin’ about?’ asked Gate.
Do the math, and you quickly see that Gatemouth was a musician when most kids were just entering Kindergarten. According to Perry, “His father fiddled for friends on the weekends, and at the age of 5, Clarence began backing him on guitar. They played a little bit of everything — regional tunes, French traditionals, German polkas. When Gate was 10, his father started him on the fiddle. During World War II, he got work as a drummer.”
Reading between the lines, one quickly gets the sense that a musician and songwriter with such wide-ranging interests was not really cut out to be a “singles” artist. Sure enough, a simple scan of the 45Cat database for Gatemouth Brown’s recordings reveals this his “singles era” essentially began in the early 1950s (1949, actually) and ended in 1975 — with his cover of Lowell George’s “Dixie Chicken” — even though he released albums practically right up until his death in 2005. Check out Gatemouth’s guitar chops on blazing instrumental, “Boogie Uproar” from 1953:
“Boogie Uproar” Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown 1953
Bill Dahl, in his biography of Gatemouth on AllMusic.com, tells us that famed music entrepreneur, Don Robey, “inaugurated his Peacock label in 1949 to showcase Brown’s blistering riffs.” Those blistering riffs were on full display in 1966 when Gatemouth served as the lead guitarist for the house band on the television show, The !!!! Beat, hosted by veteran Nashville disc jockey, Bill “Hoss” Allen — a syndicated music program notable for its stellar roster of musical performers, as well as for being filmed in color.
How unbelievably sad to learn that Gatemouth passed in September of 2005 in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, his death almost certainly hastened as a result of having to flee New Orleans on August 28 from the storm, which destroyed his home in Slidell, Louisiana, on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain.
Son’s of Funk – i.e., Fred Wesley & the JB’s – with their 1972 single release on the King label:
“From the Back Side (Pt. 1)” Son’s of Funk 1972
Is it really true – as YouTube contributor, BuckeyeCat2002, recalls – that “this James Brown / Fred Wesley cut was given to King Records as a going away present by James Brown?”
As it turns out, both parts of this rare soul 45 would be included in Ace’s top-notch collection of King Funk, and Dean Rudland’s CD liner notes affirm that this two-part instrumental recording by The JB’s was, indeed, “given to King as a favour by James himself a couple of years after he had left to go to Polydor.”
Even though the artist on this track is but one of several amusing variant names for Fred Wesley & the JBs, it is fascinating nevertheless to discover that this 45 would be the only one to be released under the name, Sons of Funk.
Brown’s last release for King would be “Soul Power (pt. 1),” which reached #3 on the soul chart and hit the US Top 40 (#29), as well as UK Top 100 (#78) in 1971. The Collins brothers, Bootsy and Catfish – neighborhood kids who lived close to the King studio – played as part of The JBs on “Soul Power,” an epic 3-part soul tune that was, curiously enough, recorded in Washington, DC.
Brown’s first single release for Polydor meanwhile – “Escape-ism (pt. 1)” which was written by Brown’s arranger & bandleader, David Matthews – would hit Top 10 R&B (#6) and Top 40 (#35) in the US.