By Bill King
A few months back several of us gathered in the basement studio of drummer Everton ‘Pablo’ Paul (Side Door Studio) in the Christie Street and St. Clair Avenue area to record tracks for an upcoming instrumental album with legendary Jamaican guitarist and producer, Ernest Ranglin, now 83 years old.
Ranglin is considered the father of ska music and producer and arranger of many early reggae hits including My Girl Lollipop by Millie Small.
It dawned on us how good the set-up was and how in tune with contemporary recording techniques musician Shane ‘Shakey J’ Forrest, also from Jamaica, is.
I started bouncing the idea of forming a collective with players who understand the back history of ska, funk, reggae and soul music and passion for long-gone recording studios like Stax, Motown, Studio One and Federal in Kingston, Jamaica, Muscle Shoals etc. and apply the same mind-set here.
Rhythm Express was born with Jamaicans Paul on drums / percussion, Shane Forrest guitar and engineering, Jesse ‘Dubmatix’ King bass and Bill King keyboards. The vocal pool is among the finest: Gavin Hope, Selena Evangeline, Ammoye Evans and Stacey Kay. The horns: trombone, Christopher Butcher from Heavyweights Brass Band, Bobby Hsu, saxophones and congas and Cuban percussionist Jorge Luis Torres, “Papiosco.”
It was decided we’d meet every Wednesday night and record a classic and give it a rebirth makeover. It was also decided to release one single a month the next 12 months beginning January 2015.
First up was Before the Rain featuring the brilliant guitar playing of Ranglin. In February, it was the classic Midnight Confessions (The Grass Roots) featuring Evans on lead vocal – a hot item in St. Lucia and Jamaica. For March, Anne Peebles, I Can’t Stand the Rain featuring Evangeline on lead vocal and with the arrival of April, Allen Toussaint’s Yes We Can Can featuring Hope.
The months ahead will see covers of music popularized by the Specials, Temptations, Dixie Cups, Jimmy Cliff, James Brown and Philiss Dillon.
To keep that retro thing pure, King designs appropriate cover art each month reflecting the times these songs debuted, capturing both the feel of the music and style of the moment.
CBC Radio 1 has been our salvation, a place where our eclectic brand of music birthed in conflict and struggle, has found acceptance and significant airplay.
Yes We Can Can is available for preview at https://dubmatix.bandcamp.com/album/yes-we-can-can-ft-gavin-hope.
When I was music director and keyboardist for the Pointer Sisters in 1976, Yes We Can Can was one of the nightly show-stoppers. This is the Pointer Sisters’ early years, swinging the blues and bouncing the funk. Yes We Can Can was their first hit in 1973, advancing to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.
When I started thinking about a follow-up single to Selena and band’s I Can’t Stand the Rain I came across the original version of Allan Toussaint’s classic by Lee Dorsey released in 1970 by Polydor. I was struck by the message of unity and togetherness and the roots New Orleans rhythm and the timely nature and overall vibe and thought what a perfect feature for Hope.
Much of what was on the original reappears here in adaptation, a bit of embellishment and arranging tweaks. It’s another Rhythm Express track paying homage to the great rhythm & blues tradition of years gone by.
This was a rhythm section workout. Drummer Paul, bassist King, guitarist Forrest and I meet every Wednesday night and record a track. Most are first or second takes. Shane also engineers. It’s a warm and cozy setting in Paul’s basement studio Side Door – the kind of comfort rarely found in larger studio environs.
The funk was easy to come by with all four of us deeply committed and fans of the back history. From my perspective, what brings authority to this track is Shane’s guitar work, from those chicken pickin’ underpinnings, a bit of slide to rhythmic chops.
The horns featuring Butcher trombone, Hsu tenor sax and Alexis Baro trumpet add that call and response pop. Gavin gets the right amount of soul and bounce in his lyrical delivery while Evangeline doubles brilliantly on background vocals.
It’s April and, for certain, Yes We Can Can month.
Yes We Can Can: composed by Allen Toussaint. Published by Sony / ATV Music Publishing LLC / Warner / Chappell Music, INC. Produced by Bill King, Shane Forrest and Everton Paul.
Lead vocal, Gavin Hope. Background vocals, Gavin Hope and Selena Evangeline.
Adapted, arranged and keyboards by Bill King. Engineer and guitar, Shane ‘Shakey J’ Forrest. Drums and percussion, Everton ‘Pablo’ Paul. Bass, Jesse ‘Dubmatix’ King. Congas, Jorge Luis Torres (Papiosco). Trombone, Christopher Butcher. Tenor sax, Bobby Hsu. Trumpet, Alexis Baro.
Cover design by Jesse ‘Dubmatix’ King.
Recorded at Side Door Studio.
Contact Bill King at email@example.com.