I wrote on the 7″ “Dirty Apple” from Johnny Hammond Smith a while back and have always picked up what I could from this great artist while in the field. His “Shifting Gears” side has been highlighted on Ultimate Breaks and Beats (making it an instant diggers delight) and in mixes by tons of DJs, most notably to come to mind is Z-Trip. “Shifting Gears” is definitely the jam, but today I wanted to jump on a cover he did of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” from the CTI record of the same name from 1971.
Johnny Hammond was the first artist released on Kudu records. His LP Breakout was the first record to introduce the CTI sister label specializing in Soul Jazz. He was label mates with some of the great artists on the roster such as Grover Washington, Jr., Hank Crawford, Esther Phillips, and Idris Muhammad among others. Hammond’s output on this label for Creed Taylor lasted for four records. These releases helped strengthen the genre known as Soul Jazz (the entire reason the label was founded), but as Hammond got in with the Mizell Brothers to release Gambler’s Life and Gears in ’74 and ’75 respectively, he seemed to take a cue from the brothers: make it funky son. Not that he wasn’t one funky mofo already, as you can hear on this track. He enlisted the help of some great musicians, particularly one Bernard aka Pretty Purdie on drums, lead guitar by Eric Gale (who’s playing rhythm guitar: George Benson or Melvin Sparks?), Ron Carter on Bass, Grover Washington, Jr. on sax, and of course Hammond on the organ and electric piano. Johnny and company’s funky take on the Aretha classic is a monster. I like how the break from the original is opened up even further by Purdie and then the tune just goes into overdrive. The strings added to the end are a nice touch, but Pretty Purdie goes at it again with some mean drumming to finish it out. This is how I like my Soul Jazz: funky and rock solid.