I’m still trying to catch up on some sleep from a great night out this past week. The Original Upsetter, Lee Perry played here in Asbury Park at the legendary Stone Pony. The man, every bit of his mid 70’s, showed no signs of slowing down, and commanded the crowd while leading his backing band Dub is a Weapon with great fervor. As well as being a super tight band, they had another journeyman legend among them Larry McDonald, who’s played with Gil Scott-Heron, Peter Tosh, Bad Brains, and Taj Majal among others. If you can check the show out at a venue near you, FMF says do it. I’d like to give some shout outs before I bring you this next dusty gem. I want to big up Semantik from Crate Kings, and Bobbalin’ Hot from Mama Feelgood Music, who are the newest members of the FMF family. Check out what they have going on repectively at their spots. Because really, it’s a family affair here. Ok, on to some music, this time we’re going to Chicago via Oakland and Los Angeles with Etta James & Sugar Pie DeSanto doing “In The Basement” on Cadet.
Both of these Funky Divas have definitely been down the path of success on their own, releasing records and touring extensively in their own right. Where Etta was more of the commercially successful artist, Sugar Pie did not achieve that commercial notarity that songs like “At Last” gave James. Sugar Pie did have “Git Back”, which was the song that got me keeping an eye out for her records, but it seems to me DeSanto was an artist that was always on the cusp of great things, not in the great things that James’ career path took her down. Both women were discovered by Johnny Otis, and then went further on, making great contributions to the Soul, R&B, and Jazz genres. Sugar Pie was hired by the Godfather himself, James Brown, to be his opening act for a couple of years. During her career, she established herself as a strong songwriter, not just a performer, penning songs for Billy Stewart, Little Milton, the Dells, Bobby McClure, Minnie Riperton, Jesse James, the Whispers and Fontella Bass . I’m not saying DeSanto was not successful, just not as successful in some eyes as James. She was a powerhouse of a singer/song writer, a stick of dynamite in a five foot frame ready to explode with her sound. Etta moved from her Gospel beginnings to her vocal group The Peaches to R&B sides on Modern, which eventually landed her on Chess subsidiary Argo in 1960. These two female titans would come together musically in 1966 on the Cadet label with this very tune here.
The side starts off with some dirty guitar and nice little drum break. From there, the two let loose and combine a 50’s Rock and Roll beat with gritty Funk and supercharged Soul which results in one helluva tune. They’re letting it all hang out and doing whatever they want in the basement. It’s like Vegas, what goes on in the basement stays there, because you dare not do those things in the outside world. I mean that’s why you go to the basement: “Where can you go/When your money is low?” The basement of course. You can dance to any music you want, party all night long, do the dance you want to do; PLUS there’s all the comforts of home, and the food and drinks are free. Hell, you can even take shelter from the storm. Now they both didn’t say which storm. Etta may have been referring to the drugs (James battled heroin most of her career, rumoured to have picked up a habit while on tour with Little Richard years earlier), or alcohol, but the basement, no matter the reference, was a safe haven for living and enjoying whatever you wanted. I am a fan of this record, it’s got some grit and grime to it, and it’s the years both of these women spent on the road with the boys touring that gives this record that bit of grittiness that makes it work. Both women have gone on to have great careers, recording, touring and living their life the way they wanted to, sort of the same philosophy as hanging out in the basement. I’ll be back over the weekend with some more treats. Keep Diggin’!