It’s been a wild ride this past weekend and up to midweek here. The blogswarm brought on a huge amount of traffic here at FleaMarket Funk, and a link from Word Magazine over in the UK. I definitely appreciate the exposure, and to all the new readers who have shown up, welcome to the family. Today I’m hitting up Chicago, and a session musician who is a lot more than just a session guy, he’s a talented artist and band leader in his own right.
When this record showed up from my local guy, I immediately recognized the Blue Thumb label (Pointer Sisters doing ‘Wang Dang Doodle”, Ike and Tina Turner’s “Bold Soul Sister” among others), but did not know Phil Upchurch was involved with the label. As soon as I dropped the needle from my portable, I knew it was a keeper, both Soulful and Jazzy, maybe even a tiny bit Funky, “Darkness Darkness” from 1972 showcased Upchurch’s talent as a multi-genre musician.
A well know guitarist in Chicago since the 50’s, Phil Upchurch made his mark musically in 1961, with The Phil Upchurch Combo hit “You Can’t Sit Down” on Boyd Records. Also known as a veteran session guy, he started out doing sessions for Windy City artists like Gene Chandler and Jerry Butler, and greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, The Kool Gents, The Spaniels, and The Dells. Moving from label Sue to Cadet in the 60’s, he finally settled in a Blue Thumb, where he did double session time recording with the Crusaders as well as recording his solo stuff. Blue Thumb was started by former King and Kama Sutra Records head Bob Krasnow, alongside Tommy LiPuma & Don Graham, executives from A & M. The label itself was distributed by ABC until 1974, where it was purchased outright by ABC, and today falls under the umbrella of Verve Records. Although Upchurch tried to equal his 1961 hit, he had little success doing so, but was able to make it by becoming a notable session guy. He did sessions in the mid 70’s and 80’s with George Benson, Chaka Khan, Marlena Shaw, Booket T. Jones, and Michael Jackson. Upchurch did a record for one of my favorite record guys, Creed Taylor from CTI, on his KUDU imprint. The record he did was with vocalist/pianist Tennyson Stephens in 1975. The man has sessioned with hundreds of musicians from many genres: Jazz, Soul, Funk, Pop, Blues and the like. While not sessioning, he has done records as a band leader, toured, done radio and TV jingles, and continues to do both as I write this.
Playing guitar along the same lines as a Grant Green (who was a session man as well as a solo artist himself for Blue Note), Upchurch makes you not only hear it, but feel it. The echo in the guitar, the fading in and out of the whole song itself, however he’s perceived the darkness coming, you’re right with him. This cover, written by Jesse Colin Young of The Youngbloods fame is a great example of the range Upchurch had, not only as a musician, but as a leader as well. Like I said earlier, it’s got some Jazz, Soul, Funk, even a tinge of Psychedelic Soul in it (not too much, but remember it’s 1972, music is drawing influences from all kinds of things), with a fuzzed out guitar and that deep bass line. It even sounds a bit like the guitar in Bob Marley’s “Concrete Jungle”. Jungle was released in 1973, so who knows, maybe Bob lifted a bit of the opening riff from Upchurch. Then again, maybe Upchurch was borrowing from guys like Carlos Santana or George Benson, or even the aforementioned Grant Green. He simply was just trying to keep up with the times, as I have talked about so much in the past. Rather than give up, these guys adapted to what was around them, or in the case of Phil Upchurch, elevated himself and combined a few genres to give himself a unique sound that would stand out all these years later. Not bad, Chicago, Illinois to Asbury Park, New Jersey 35 years later and still sounding good.
I’ll see you Friday with another gem Keep Diggin’!