Soul Serenade: Gene Chandler, “Groovy Situation”

How many artists can you think of whose careers spanned the years from doo-wop to classic soul and into the disco era and had hits in all of them? The one that leaps to mind for me is Gene Chandler. There were landmarks along the way for Chandler, from his 1962 doo-wop smash “Duke of Earl,” to his 1964 soul classic “Just Be True,” to his 1978 disco hit “Get Down.”

Chandler is a Chicago guy, born and raised. He was a teenager when he joined his first band, the Gaytones. In 1957 he became a member of the Dukays. His career with that group was interrupted by a stint in the Army but he returned to them when he got out in 1960. The Dukays got a record deal with Nat Records and working with producers Carl Davis and Bunky Shepherd they released their first single, “The Girl is a Devil,” in 1961.

A subsequent session yielded four more songs. Nat Records chose “Nite Owl” to be the next Dukays single so Davis and Shepherd offered another song from the session, “Duke of Earl,” to a different local label. Vee-Jay released “Duke of Earl” as a single in 1962 but under the name Gene Chandler as opposed to the Dukays. The rest is pop music history. The single sold a million copies in its first month of release and spent three weeks atop the charts.

The following year, Chandler left Vee-Jay and signed with Constellation Records. In the three years he was with the label Chandler had one hit after another including “Just Be True” in 1964, and “Nothing Can Stop Me” in 1965. Both of those songs were written by Curtis Mayfield. After Constellation went belly-up, Chandler alternated releases with Chess Records and Brunswick Records.

Gene Chandler

In the late ’60s, Chandler got involved as a producer and started a couple of labels of his own. He produced his 1970 hit “Groovy Situation” which was released by Mercury Records. The song was written by Russell Lewis and Herman Davis and had been originally recorded by Mel & Tim. Earlier, Chandler had produced the Mel & Tim smash “Backfield in Motion.” Chandler’s version of “Groovy Situation” had the magic though and it reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and it was a Top 10 hit on the R&B chart while becoming a million-seller.

While it was nearly impossible to match the success that Chandler had with “Duke of Earl,” “Groovy Situation” became Chandler’s second biggest hit. Both songs have made numerous appearances in movies over the years. “Duke of Earl” is in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named it one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

When disco was in its ascendancy Chandler adapted when many others couldn’t or wouldn’t. Toward the end of the 1970s, Chandler once again worked with producer Carl Davis and had disco hits like “Get Down,” “When You’re #1,” and “Does She Have a Friend.”

Gene Chandler has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and he has received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. In 1970 Chandler was named Producer of the Year by the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers and he has been inducted twice into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame, once as a performer and again as an R&B Music Pioneer. From his first chart single in 1961 to his last in 1986, Gene Chandler has had a remarkable genre-spanning career.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Eighty-Eight

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Eighty Eight

As our intrepid heroes continue to understand the incomprehensible, the laughs also return in full effect to Radio City… as Jon and Rob ruminate on such topics as the Red Sox’ triumph over the Dodgers; the death of notorious gangster Whitey Bulger; food chains of our childhood; the anti-climactic vibe of this year’s Halloween, plus “In Our Heads” and plenty more!

So shake off any cobwebs – emotional or otherwise – and give yourself a chance to breathe and relax.  Hopefully, Jon and Rob will make you think and smile.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Eighty Eight

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

Soul Serenade: Dobie Gray, “Drift Away”

For a pop songwriter, the gold standard is a song that has a chorus that people can sing along to. That kind of thing not only goes a long way toward having the song becoming a hit but also gives it longevity. If your chorus is catchy enough people are likely to still be singing it years later. Having spent some time in bars with jukeboxes and live bands I think it’s fair to say that “Drift Away” qualifies as one of those songs.

Lawrence Darrow Brown was born in 1940 into a family of sharecroppers in Texas. His grandfather was a Baptist minister which is how Brown first became inspired by gospel music. He moved to Los Angeles when he was in his early 20s with an eye on an acting career but it isn’t easy to break into the Hollywood scene so Brown turned to singing to make some money while he was waiting for his chance.

Brown recorded for several labels during this period, under several names. One of the people he encountered was a guy named Sonny Bono who thought the independent label Stripe Records would be a good fit for Brown. Once he signed on the people at the label suggested the name Dobie Gray which was inspired by the then-popular TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

He may have acquired his name at Stripe but he accomplished little else. Success didn’t come until 1963 when he was recording for Core-Dak and it was a modest success at that. The single “Look at Me” climbed to the not-too-lofty position of #91 on the Billboard Hot 100. Two years later, however, Gray struck gold with his #13 hit “The In Crowd.” With the legendary Wrecking Crew backing him up, Gray hit the Hot 100 again with the follow-up, “See You at the Go-Go.” But things dried up for a while, a long while, after that.

Gray kept recording for small labels and he even got some of that acting work he’d come to L.A. for in the first place. He spent 2 1/2 years in the cast of the L.A. production of the musical Hair.

Do you remember Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies? He was played by Max Baer, Jr. and after his acting career, Baer became quite a successful manager. One of his clients was a band called Pollution that had formed in 1970 and included Gray as the lead singer. The band recorded two albums that didn’t make much noise and by 1972 Gray had signed with Decca Records. He prepared to work on an album for the label to be recorded in Nashville with Mentor Williams as producer. Williams was the brother of the very successful songwriter Paul Williams with whom Gray had recorded some demos earlier.

Dobie Gray

One of the songs they recorded in Nashville was “Drift Away” which featured that indelible chorus as well as some fine guitar work from Reggie Young. The song was written by Mentor Williams and first recorded by John Henry Kurtz in 1972. The following year it became a #5 smash for Gray, selling a million copies and earning a Gold Record. Gray followed it up with his cover of “Loving Arms” which did respectable but not spectacular business, reaching #61.

By then Decca had been enfolded into MCA Records and Gray made three albums for the label. None of them was very successful, a problem Gray felt was caused by the fact that MCA “didn’t know where to place a black guy in country music.” Now a permanent Nashville resident, Gray signed with Capricorn records and had modest success with his last two solo singles, “If Love Must Go” (#78), and “You Can Do It” (#37). During this time, Gray toured in Australia, Europe, and after persuading the authorities to allow him to play to integrated audiences, South Africa.

Gray recorded for Capitol Records in the 1980s and had some success on the country charts. He continued to tour and release albums in the 1990s. Unexpectedly, “Drift Away” became a hit all over again when Gray recorded a new version of the song with the band Uncle Kracker in 2003. The new version made it all the way to #9 on the Hot 100 that year and spent an incredible 28 weeks at the top of the Adult Contemporary chart.

Dobie Gray died in Nashville in 2011. He was 71 years old. And we’re still singing that chorus.

The Popdose Mixtape: Election Day 2018 Edition

You don’t need me to tell you. You can see it with your own eyes. You don’t need me to tell you that everything we warned of, everything we feared, has come true. That the American experiment teeters on the brink of failure; that our reputation as a beacon of freedom and tolerance is already in tatters.

You don’t need me to tell you that sitting members of Congress are talking openly about the myth of “white genocide.” You don’t need me to tell you that the president is sending troops to the southern border. That he’s talking about ending birthright citizenship — and that instead of scornful laughter, his insane proposal is being met with thoughtful chin-stroking.

You don’t need me to tell you that means.

You don’t need me to tell you to vote.

When I was younger, I used to read histories of the Spanish Inquisition, of fascist Germany, of the Khmer Rouge, and think: How the hell does this happen? How does an entire nation just lose its goddam mind and start tearing itself to pieces? As the Rwandan genocide unfolded, as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated into ethnic barbarism, I thought: How did it ever get to this point? do neighbors turn on neighbors like that? Why didn’t anybody step up and stop it?

That’s us. We’re “anybody.” And it’s time for us to step up.

Time to face facts: America has lost its goddam mind. Lost it a long time ago, in fact — right around the turn of the millennium — but the downward spiral has accelerated. The damage may be just about reversible, if we work our asses and off and do what’s right.

But a lot of us are thinking that this may be our very last chance.

We don’t want to believe that.

But we’ve been right before, and lived to regret it.

Download the full 2018 mix (1:20:20).

Download the full 2016 mix (1:18:37). Read the 2016 essay here.

Download the full 2012 mix (1:20:51). Read the 2012 essay here.

opening montage: a nation loses its mind
This Is America – Childish Gambino
If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next – Manic Street Preachers
Today I Died Again Simple Minds
President Gas (edit) Psychedelic Furs
Liar – Rollins Band
Atom Bomb – Fluke
Freedom Is Free – Chicano Batman
So Afraid of the Russians (edit) Made For TV
Lawyers, Guns, and Money – Warren Zevon
Stool Pigeon (edit)Kid Creole and the Coconuts
Dad, I’m In Jail – Was (Not Was)
(Working for the) Clampdown – The Clash
The Refugee – U2
Border Song (Holy Moses) – Aretha Franklin
Fight Like A Girl – Zolita
Takin’ It to the Streets – The Doobie Bros.
What’s Your Badge Number? – Elders of Zion
Through Being Cool – Devo
Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) – Angélique Kidjo
Big Brother (edit) David Bowie
When Will You Die? – They Might Be Giants
coda: Lift Every Voice and Sing – Ray Charles


Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Eighty-Seven

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Eighty Seven

On most occasions, even darker ones, Jon and Rob will try to find a sense of rationale to work through things that make no sense – which is why they love doing what they do and sharing it with you.  However, this episode, recorded the night after the Pittsburgh massacre has both men delivering some of their most honest, heartfelt reactions to something that, once again, has no rhyme or reason.

At the same time, the show does have its lighter moments, especially as they conclude Part 2 of the “special” “In Our Heads” segment, amongst other laughs.  So please – join Jon and Rob; it will do you good.  Seriously.  At a time like this, you need these voices of reason.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Eighty Seven

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

Soul Serenade: The Delfonics, “Ready Or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)

Do you remember when you first fell in love with Philly Soul? For me, it was in 1968 because that was the year when the Delfonics’ “La La Means I Love You” came pouring out of radio speakers everywhere to offer a balm in a very troubled time. There had certainly been great Philly Soul records before. Several of the Intruders hits come to mind but there was something so magical about the Delfonics sound that it transcended everything else.

I remember seeing the Delfonics on television around that time. Their stage presence was as unique and special as their sound. Into a world that was in love with the Motown way of performance, the powerful athletic movement embodied in the live appearance of the Temptations came this trio with slow angular moves that owed more to modern ballet than anything else. And there were no slick suits either. Instead, the Delfonics appeared in turtlenecks and bell bottoms. It was as if Philadelphia meant to announce, as if such an announcement was necessary, ‘hey, we ain’t Detroit.’

The Delfonics released two new singles in the wake of “La La.” Both of them did alright, “I’m Sorry” reaching #42 on the charts and “Break Your Promise” doing a little better at #35. Both songs had been written, just as “La La” had been, by producer Thom Bell along with William Hart, who sang lead on the hits. The original Delfonics trio also included Hart’s brother Wilbert and Randy Cain. That was the classic lineup.

The Delfonics

Next up came a single that wasn’t a hit any bigger than the previous two singles but, clocking in at just over two minutes, it made a lasting impression. “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)” was again written by Bell and Hart. It was released by Philly Groove Records on October 22, 1968 (the record just celebrated its 50th anniversary) and rose to #35 on the pop chart and #14 on the R&B chart.

The Jackson 5 covered “Ready or Not” on their 1970 Third Album. Perhaps the biggest moment of afterlife for the song came when the Fugees interpolated it for their huge 1996 album The Score. The following year, Missy Elliott sampled “Ready or Not” for her song “Sock It 2 Me.” “Ready or Not” has also been sampled by Three 6 Mafia and Lil’ Kim among others.

Despite releasing some great records after “Ready or Not” the Delfonics only had big chart success one more time, that with “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind” a Top 10 single in 1970. Randy Cain left the Delfonics the following year and was replaced by Major Harris. An even bigger set back came when Thom Bell, who had such an important role in the success of the Delfonics as producer and songwriter, moved on to work with the Stylistics and the Spinners.

The Delfonics split up in 1975 but there are groups touring with some variation of that name right up to today include William “Poogie” Hart & the Delfonics, and Wilbert Hart, formerly of the Delfonics. Randy Cain passed away in 2009.