Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Valentinos. Lookin' for a Love.

The Valentinos.  Lookin’ for a Love: The Complete SAR Recordings.
ABKCO Music & Records, 2014.  

You may be wondering who the Valentinos are.  They also went by another name, the Womack Brothers, who might be more familiar either through their gospel music, or through Bobby Womack’s rather larger musical career.  Brothers Friendly, Jr., Curtis, Bobby, Harry, and Cecil (as fate would have it, only the oldest two are still alive) began their career at their father’s church at East 85th & Quincy.  They cut a secular single in 1954 for Pennant Records, a Cleveland label, but it didn’t go far.  However, they happened to meet the Soul Stirrers when they were coming through town, and the lead singer, Sam Cooke, changed their lives.  He signed them to his SAR Record label in 1960 and they recorded two more singles under the Womack Brothers name.  When they didn’t hit, Cooke suggested they try soul music, and they changed their name to the Valentinos.  They recorded for SAR from 1961-1964, until Cooke’s death.  After a hiatus, they were picked up by Chess, and later Jubilee Records.  Eventually, the brothers did background vocals for Bobby on his albums.  I’ve skipped over all the scandal and personal stuff, and you can look that up for yourself.

This package contains 23 tracks they recorded for SAR from 1961-1964. Included are the two gospel songs  to start off the album, “Somebody’s Wrong,” and “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Sing.”  Two other gospel tracks (the B sides) bookend the soul tracks, having been released under the Womack Brothers name.  Aside from the lyrics, the styles are nearly identical to the soul tracks, the Brothers having transferred a great deal of their singing style over to the secular side.  Bobby sang some leads, Curtis sang others (with Curtis sounding a bit like Sam Cooke).  Songs were written by various folks, but most prominently Curtis, Bobby, and Sam Cooke himself.  

As for the songs themselves, they’re exquisite, shining gems of early 60s soul music. I can’t believe how quickly I was transported back to that time, even though I have never heard most of the tunes.  Some made the R&B charts, but only two are recognizable (aside from the gospel song “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray,” which is a standard in the genre).  “Lookin’ for a Love to Call My Own” was an R&B hit, but I doubt if I heard it back when I was a 10 year old suburbanite.  It’s familiar because it was recorded by the J. Geils Band in 1971, and remade by Bobby Womack in 1974.  The other was a big hit not for the Valentinos (their version peaked at #94 on the Billboard Charts), but for the Rolling Stones.  “It’s All Over Now” was covered by them a month later, a blow that was made less painful by the royalty check Bobby got as the co-writer.  But whether the songs are familiar or not, they’re a pure delight to a fan of the music of this period.  Soul with strong gospel and pop influences, a good dose of Sam Cooke, a touch of Chuck Berry, and occasional doo-wop vocals (“Don’t Go Away” is a classic in this regard).  Every song has something special, and each is a time capsule, delivered in less than three minutes.

The final track on the album features Sam Cooke giving instructions to the group on how to handle the tune “Sugar Dumpling,” directing handclaps and initial harmonies. This is a remarkable collection and a well-produced historical document of a time of sweet soul music and young artists with remarkable potential and the world before them.

Personnel:  Friendly Womack, Jr. (vocals), Curtis Womack (vocals), Bobby Womack (vocals, guitar), Harry Womack (vocals, bass), Cecil Womack (vocals, guitar), Rene Hall (session leader, 1962, 1964), Harold Battiste (session leader, piano, celeste, 1964), various session musicians.
Tracks:  Somebody’s Wrong; Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray; Lookin’ for a Love; Darling, Come Back Home; I’ll Make It Alright; I’ve Got a Girl; Tired of Livin’ in the Country; Don’t Go Away; She’s So Good to Me; Baby, Lot’s of Luck; It’s All Over Now; I’ve Got a Love for You; Rock in the Cradle of Love; Somewhere There’s a Girl; Sugar Dumpling; Bitter Dreams; Everybody Wants to Fall in Love; Put Me Down Easy; To Show My Love; Shakin’ This Way and That (Lassie); Tired of Livin’ in the Country; Yield Not to Temptation; Somewhere There’s a God; Sam Cooke in the Studio.

The Grand Wazoo

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