I went to the 60th birthday party of an old friend the other night. Most of us had been friends since the ‘70s, and I saw people I hadn’t seen for years. There was great food, the bar was pouring generously, and we Boomers were all blooming. There was a dance floor, and a DJ. Standard party stuff, I know, but since we were mostly all of a certain age, the DJ dutifully played music of the mid-to-late Sixties.
After some Stones (Rolling, not Sly and the Family, unfortunately), some Beatles, and things like “Build Me Up, Buttercup,” the guy played “Do You Love Me” by The Contours. Actually, he played someone’s cover version of the song, in a lower key, but he was young and may not have known what he did. But I noticed.
I grew up in Glendale, CA in the ‘60s, listening to KRLA, KFWB or KHJ, the three radio stations that played Top 40 (this was way before FM’s cool baritone alternative DJs). In 1962, most of the top tunes were pretty conservative, even the ones by black R ‘n’ B artists (remember, AM radio played a much greater variety of styles back then than modern radio does. Everything is niche-marketed and genre-fied now): DeeDee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time,” Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” Nat King Cole’s “Ramblin’ Rose,” and even “The Stripper” by the great David Rose.
But then there was “Do You Love Me.” Before the Beatles, before the entire British invasion, this song came out in the same year as the Cuban Missile Crisis. A well-known raconteur and thinker about music, Bob Lefsetz, talks about those records and songs that have the power to change your life. And this one changed mine.
Glendale was, by many accounts, the largest all-white community in the United States. I’ll probably write more about that in a future blog, but suffice to say that, at the tender age of 10, there was no chance I’d ever have been inside an African-American church hearing the power of Gospel soul-shouting.
When I heard Billy Gordon’s solo on “Do You Love Me,” it made me crazy. How could a human being sing like that? My Mom was a singer and I’d heard the great singers of the day, but this…THIS was something different! First, the announcement that he was “…back – to let YOU know I can really shake ‘em down.” So right off, he throws down the gauntlet, then he proceeds to prove his point with a throat-ripping plea that comes from the center of all human gravity.
To this day it gives me chills every time I hear it, and there’s nothing more real than this record, from the Funk Brothers’ track to Hugh Davis’ tremolo guitar intro to – and this is the part that sent my little 10-year-old brain over the edge – the FALSE ENDING! The record starts to fade out like all good records of the era did so the DJ could begin puking his intro to whatever was coming next (in the industry, they actually call that old style of over-energetic DJ-speak “puking”). THEN, just like James Brown when he springs-up, reborn, throwing off his robe, the groove begins again and Gordon makes his impossible gut-wrenching way to the end of the song.
“Tell me baby, do you like it like this? Tell me… TELL ME!”
Yeah, I like it like that.
As of this blogging I have three shows to post. First, I will be doing the great Comedy/Spoken Word show “Sit ‘n’ Spin” this Thursday, May 10 at 8pm. I’ll be appearing with the hilarious and crazy Eddie Pepitone. It usually sells out (it’s free, but, you know what I mean). Call 323-960-5519. If they tell you it’s full up, email me, I might be able to get you in.
Then I’m doing a Round Robin at The Other Door in NoHo with two great songwriter friends, Captain Danger and Skip Heller on May 17th. Come hear us all trade tunes and banter like the singin’ dogs we are.
May 13th, Mother’s Day, I’ll be singing a couple of tunes for the well-known songwriter, and teacher Harriet Schock at The Talking Stick in Venice. There should be some other great singers and songwriters there as well, including Harriet herself.
I’m looking to do a bigger show, a full evening, on a Saturday night, sometime in June. If you have any venue suggestions, pass them along. I will probably beg you all to come to that show sometime in the near future, but I’m a mellow beggar so don’t worry.