By Bill King
You just couldn’t get past these four recordings in the late sixties and early seventies: Theme from Shaft by Isaac Hayes, Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, Marvin Gaye’s epic What’s Going On and the Temptations’ Papa Was a Rolling Stone.
These were extended play songs that begged for time getting the message out – and the music totally hypnotized the listener.
You could be driving through America’s heartland, down a mountainside in the great Rockies or cruising a Baltimore neighborhood on a hot steamy summer night and any one of those songs would have you mystically engaged and compel you pull the car over, close your eyes and sing along.
The words are poetic and meaning even deeper. The music – orchestrated like a new Beethoven had arrived on the scene and discovered the Wah Wah pedal, a funky place for Latin congas, four part harmony with rhythms that rip and roar to every corner of the sound system – expanded the compositional and orchestral possibilities of funk and soul music.
This seventh single for the Rhythm Express brings a contemporary edge to the classic Papa Was a Rolling Stone.
The 60’s and 70s’ keep reminding us of the hard lessons of the past and continue to haunt. Today’s streets are meaner and daily events are even more present. There’s the ever-present cell phone capable of catching incidents of racial violence – and those often denied flare-ups between armed police and civilians – the domestic violence and the daily grind of life.
Papa is the story of the absent father.
Lead singer Dennis Edwards was upset with the first verse of the song: “It was the third of September / the day I’ll always remember / ’cause that was the day / that my daddy died.” Edwards’ father had died on that date, not in September but October.
Producer and writer Norman Whitfield forced Edward’s to the brink demanding he re-sing and sing until he got that passion and pain into the track.
In the original Melvin ‘Wah-Wah Watson’ Ragin gave the track that distinctive rhythmic sound. The Rhythm Express decided to update and find a 2015 edge through Shane Forrest’s bump guitar parts.
Shane opens with a slicing blues lick that leads into a Keith Richards-like rhythm pattern then a double down nasty low string grind through the chorus.
Everton ‘Pablo’ Paul splits time between hard core Memphis groove and ska.
Singers Michael Dunston and Selena Evangeline take the song to church, that once secure place where women traded stories about the past week – the laughter, the hardship – that missing man and children who need attention and three daily meals.
As the track fades, Ammoye and Michael improvise, conversing through the soft talk of Ammoye and the testimonial calls of Michael.
Rhythm Express: Produced and arranged and keyboards by Bill King; engineer and guitar Shane ‘Shaky J Forrest ; drums Everton ‘Pablo’ Paul (Side Door Records); bass Jesse ‘Dubmatix’ King; trombone Christopher Butcher; alto sax Bobby Hsu; percussion Jorge Luis Torres. Singers Michael Dunston, Selena Evangeline, Ammoye.
Songwriters Whitfield, Norman J. / Strong, Barrett. Published by Lyrics © Sony / ATV Music Publishing LLC.
You can watch and listen on YouTube at https://youtu.be/T1VI0Z-PIP8.