Sam Taylor Jr. — I Heard It Through the Grapevine
from The Tunnels of My Mind (1969)
I know what you’re thinking—“I’ve heard ‘I’ve Heard It Through The Grapevine’ way too many times.”
Well let me assure you that you’ve never heard Grapevine swing like this. Sam Taylor Jr., a bluesy soul singer and guitarist from Long Island via Mobile, Alabama, put out this smoking album in 1969, and this version of Grapevine makes the rest shrivel up in shame.
Later in his career Taylor provided guitar duties for musicians on the ‘chitlin circuit,’ including The Isleys and Otis Redding. A friend recently gave me an excellent book on these influential clubs called The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock’n’Roll. So far, it’s a fascinating history.
Album via last week’s Motherlode.
Red Sovine — Phantom 309 (1967)
This Country Sunday we visit with the master of the truck-driving ballad, Woodrow Wilson “Red” Sovine. (He dropped the presidential reference on stage.) On this tune he sings of a traveller who thumbs down a semi on a stormy night. The driver who picks him up is ghost trucker Big Joe and his rig, the “Phantom 309.” Big Joe drops the hitchhiker at a truck stop, where, over a cup of coffee, the hitchhiker learns that Big Joe died years ago in a highway smashup, when he swerved to save a school bus full of kids.
Sovine was born in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1918. His mother taught him guitar, and he landed a gig at Charleston’s WCHS when he was 17. He formed his first band in the late 40s, picking up the unfortunate nickname “Old Syrup Sopper” due both to his sponsorship by a syrup company and his syrupy balladry.
He was about to quit on music when none other than Hank Williams intervened, landing him a better radio slot on Montgomery, Alabama’s WSFA, and a record deal to boot. Soon Sovine was performing on the country music radio show Louisiana Hayride. Within five years he’d scored a number of chart-topping hits and joined the Grand Ole Opry.
In the 60s, he began composing his trucker ballads, lik ‘Phantom 309,’ ‘Giddyup Go’ and ‘Teddy Bear.’ Tom Waits later adapted ‘Phantom 309’ as ‘Big Joe And Phantom 309,’ from the Nighthawks at the Diner sessions. Red died of a heart attack at the wheel of his Ford van in 1980, while driving through Nashville.
Razzy — I Hate Hate (1974)
Let’s keep going with the country soul theme, and for that matter the Alabama-born theme, with Razzy Bailey on I Hate Hate. It’s another chorus that’ll have you singing, shouting and screaming. It really doesn’t get better than hating hate — but only if you love love, like Razzy does.
If you like this sort of thing I highly recommend the two-volume Country Got Soul compilation. Lots of gems on there, including this one.
Below, a shot of Razzy (left) all hillbillied up on the country music variety show Hee Haw, with the ‘King of Country Music’ Roy Acuff.