I warn you now, this will be a long and winding post… but you’ll hear some good music along the way. The first thing I want you to do is listen to this song “Kandi,” by a band called One Eskimo.
Lately I’ve been reading a fabulously cranky blog by a music-industry insider named Bob Lefsetz. He spends half the time telling record companies they’re screwed because they don’t understand how young people consume music, and the other half saying it doesn’t matter because all the new bands suck anyway. He’s self-contradictory and dismissive and you’d want to jump out the window if you ended up next to him on a plane. But every so often the joy he gets from music finds its way into a post. He’s the one who turned me on to “Kandi,” and sent me off on a musical walk in the woods.
It turns out the chorus from “Kandi” is lifted from a song by the R&B singer Candi Staton called “He Called Me Baby.” If you know Candi Staton at all, you really know your R&B or you know her one pop hit from the ’70s, “Young Hearts Run Free.”
(Yes, people did dress like that in the ’70s.)
Here’s her version of “He Called Me Baby” — the YouTube is just a photo of her, but it’s worth it to stop and listen.
That’s some classic Southern soul right there — you can draw a line from there to “Rock Steady,” to my ears anyway.
The only other thing I knew about Candi Staton was that she was once married to Clarence Carter, the blind Alabama soul singer. Clarence Carter you probably do know, especially if you have ever spent more than two hours in a Southern bar with a jukebox, because in that time, you are guaranteed to hear “Strokin’.” (lyrics NSFW but irresistible)
Let me ask you somethin’… What time of the day do you like to make love?
I sincerely hope Clarence has made six billion dollars from “Strokin’,” but he made a lot better music in his prime — just about every song was a cheatin’ song and they were all great. Especially “Slip Away.”
Back to “He Called Me Baby.” It wasn’t originally an R&B song either; a follow-up post from Lefsetz shows it came from Harlan Howard, the legendary country songwriter who wrote “Heartaches By the Number,” “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down” and dozens more country hits. His biggest hit was “I Fall To Pieces,” by Patsy Cline, and yep, it turns out Patsy did a version of “He Called Me Baby.”
You can wander off as far as you want when you do this sort of thing — I spent a couple of hours getting farther and farther from home, losing track of the song completely, until I somehow ended up at Leo Sayer and figured it was time to turn around.
I was telling somebody the other day that I’m getting shallower in my middle age. The big issues of the world — the things I ought to care about, especially as a professional journalist — don’t move me as much as they should. But sports and love and books and friends and music and dogs — I care about those things deeply, sometimes irrationally, and more than ever.
If you’ve come this far, God bless you, you probably care about some of those things too.
This blog has been dormant for a while as I made the transition from the fellowship life in Harvard back to the working life in Charlotte. I couldn’t figure out quite what to do with it considering I was already doing a blog for work. (And part of another.) But I think I’ve figured it out — here is where I’ll talk about music, and books, and sports, and some of those other passions that don’t quite fit what I do for a living. (Although I have managed to work it in on the job here and there.)
I think what all those things have in common is connections — in the same way that a chorus from a new song echoes back through tracks cut long ago, a line from a book or a play from a football game can vibrate with memories while at the same time being its own thing, right there, in the moment.
Go back to the top of this post and listen to “Kandi” again. It’s a great song. See where it takes you. We’ll meet back here shortly.