(Written by Ken Craig and George Coolures)
The magnificent The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 4 box set concludes, wholly appropriately, with the Velvelettes’ lovely Throw A Farewell Kiss – but Motown had one more trick up their sleeve before 1964 was done.
Multi-racial blues rockers the Merced Blue Notes hailed, as their name suggests, from Merced, California. Originally formed as Roddy Jackson’s backing band, they stayed together once Jackson moved on, getting a reputation for their stage shows that eventually translated into a record deal. They eventually wound up signed to Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi label, where they released two singles in two years, “Midnite Session” and “Whole Lotta Nothing”. When Fuqua sold Tri-Phi to Motown, then – as with the likes of the Spinners, Shorty Long and Johnny Bristol – the Blue Notes were transferred too.
But it was a bad time to be a blues rock act on Motown’s books. The company had already jettisoned its own bluesier performers (Singin’ Sammy Ward, Gino Parks, Henry Lumpkin and Amos Milburn were gone, with Hattie Littles due next out of the door); if there wasn’t room for those guys, Motown certainly wouldn’t be making the effort to accomodate an inherited act like the Merced Blue Notes. And they didn’t, hence the big ol’ UNRELEASED up there at the top.
Almost a year after the sale, the group’s manager, harmonica soloist and songwriter (and Merced fire chief!) George Coolures convinced Motown to take a chance and release a Blue Notes record during the Christmas lull, at a time when Motown was busy clearing its cupboards of whatever unreleased favours and space-fillers were still lying around – but after the catalogue number and release date were allocated, on further reflection Motown declined to release the single after all. This was the last straw, and the Blue Notes left Motown without ever having seen a record hit the stores.
Now, here’s where it gets a bit confusing. Since the recordings had likely been made on Tri-Phi’s dollar, possibly in Northern California rather than Detroit or Los Angeles (though the tape catalogue entry reproduced in The Complete Motown Singles Volume 4 names Robert Gordy and Harvey Fuqua as co-producers for these tracks, which is weird), and since Motown wasn’t going to be doing anything with them, it seems that Motown gave the masters back to the band for them to sell on elsewhere.
So, despite this being an “unreleased” Motown single, both proposed sides of it actually appeared as future Merced Blue Notes B-sides, both backing up the same song, the mod dancer Rufus Jr.; this one appeared as the flip on tiny indie Mammoth Records (pictured above), but when the record started to make waves and San Francisco label Galaxy bought up Rufus Jr., they went with the would-have-been Motown B-side Thompin’ as their choice of flip instead. Because these tracks no longer “belonged” to Motown, this meant they weren’t available for inclusion in the Complete Motown Singles box sets – but here on Motown Junkies, such restrictions don’t apply, and so here we are. You lucky things, you.
(A bit of mild sarcasm there. Because, to be honest, you’re not missing much.)
Do The Pig starts out in highly engaging fashion, a jaunty electric piano riff sparking up a taut organ-led blues rock number with a tight, slinky bar-room feel to it, locking into a rippling groove as a gruff toaster – who later turns out to be a lead singer of sorts – shouts exhortations to the audience over the top of it all: “…everybody get ready to do the Pig at the Blue Note gig! Alright! Get ready now!”
The organ has a slightly wonky, arresting tone to it, reminiscent of the Ondioline riffs that underpinned so many of the very earliest Motown cuts, and the vocals (chanted/shouted by several Blue Notes together, giving the impression of a drunken pub singalong) are excellently silly fun. “You gotta have hairs on your chinny chin chin!”, growls our MC. It’s a good laugh, charming and not without musical merit.
But it gets repetitive and runs out of ideas very quickly, and the playing feels clumsy and amateurish compared to the Funk Brothers or Junior Walker. The “raucous” instrumental middle eight actually winds up sounding exactly the same as the rest of the record, just without the Blue Notes bellowing and hollering over the top of it. Other than a guitar squeal which makes a kind of weird siren/fire alarm noise in the background near the end, which briefly catches the ear and revives your flagging interest, after the first 20 seconds or so of this, you’ve pretty much heard the whole thing.
Oh, they’re having a blast, the Blue Notes, no doubt about it. And if I was drunk, dancing in a dark, smoke-filled beer hall, in a crowd of similarly pissed-up revellers, and these guys were blasting this out on stage, I can imagine it being great. Instead, even though it actually only goes on for barely two minutes, it gets boring long before the end, and that burst of enthusiasm from the beginning is replaced by impatience and then weary resignation as you wait for it to be over. (Perhaps that’s what happened to Motown’s scheduling people, too – their initial excitement went cold.)
They sound like they could keep this party going all night, but the longer the record goes on, the more it shows up their lack of ideas, and the less fun I find it. As it stands, it’s harmless enough, but it’s worn out its welcome by the time it ends; if it went on any longer, I could see me knocking some more marks off the score.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
You’re reading Motown Junkies, an attempt to review every Motown A- and B-side ever released. Click on the “previous” and “next” buttons below to go back and forth through the catalogue, or visit the Master Index for a full list of reviews so far.
(Or maybe you’re only interested in the Merced Blue Notes? Click for more.)
“Throw A Farewell Kiss”
|The Merced Blue Notes