The clamour for the next instalment of Every Album I Own is deafening, so here we go. Bit of a cheat, this one, as the Del-Byzanteens record in question is actually an EP, with a mere three tracks on it. They did release one album, and it’s pretty good, but I don’t own it, whereas the 12 inch single of Girl’s Imagination (backed with My Hands Are Yellow and My World Is Empty Without You) occupies pride of place in my collection, right there between De La Soul’s Three Feet High & Rising and The Dells’ Freedom Means. I’d take those three records to a desert island any day of the week (except Thursday – I have a dental appointment that day). Props are due (once again) to my former Communication Studies lecturer and latterly jazz critic Phil “Jazz” Johnson for introducing me to the Del-Byzanteens. They should have been huge. And where are they now? Well, Jim Jarmusch (keyboards) went on to “better” things in the world of film, if you like that sort of stuff (I don’t) and lyricist Luc Sante became a writer of some minor note, blogging about the music and books and films he likes… I mean, really, who is interested in THAT stuff? And what of Phil Kline (guitar/vocals) who was, briefly, in 1982 or thereabouts, my go-to man, or the brothers (and twin drummers) Josh and Dan Braun? What of the intriguingly monikered Philippe Hagen on bass? And what, you want to know, is the music like? Alright, I’m getting to that. Girl’s Imagination is all woozy and Eastern-sounding, and goes on a bit without getting anywhere. It sounds better on drugs, they tell me. All Del-Byzanteens songs sound better on drugs, I’m told. My Hands Are Yellow is like the Talking Heads when David Byrne isn’t singing (I Zimbra?) and made its way onto a Soul Jazz New York No Wave compilation some years back, sounding at home among the Liquid Liquid and ESG tracks. But for me, this EP is all about the “cover version” of the Supremes’ My World Is Empty Without You which does what all great cover versions should do i.e. ignore the original completely. Okay, so Holland/Dozier/Holland get the credit on the sleeve but all that’s left of their song is the chorus, allied to a guitar line nicked from Perry Mason, and some lyrics (“We’re gonna lock you in your room”) which are repeated over and over again. This freaked my one-time drug fiend/friend Nancy out so much that she begged me to take the record off and would never listen to it again. Now, if that isn’t a sign of a great track, I don’t know what is.
D is also for Sam Dees, The Show Must Go On
I can’t begin to explain the excitement I felt when I came across a vinyl copy of this album in the late 1980s. Remember, this was back in the days before the Internet, before CDs, and if you didn’t have the vinyl, you only heard music like Sam Dees on the radio or in clubs. Music was somehow more magical in those days, and you might have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince like Sam Dees. God knows I did.
In terms of song-writing, The Show Must Go On is up there with Marvin Gaye (What’s Going On?) Stevie Wonder (Songs in the Key of Life) Bobby Womack (Communication, Understanding) and Curtis Mayfield (just about anything). In terms of singing, maybe it isn’t. But I like Sam’s voice. Anyway, when songs are this good, even I could sing them and get away with it. So look out for the forthcoming CD, Nick Gilbert sings the songs of Sam Dees on Plankton Produktions. Failing that, you can check out all the songs he wrote for the likes of Loleatta Holloway, Dorothy Moore, Aretha Franklin, Millie Jackson, Gladys Knight and Whitney Houston. Ain’t that a roll call of divas right there?
Eventually, I got to see Sam sing, at the Morecambe Soul Weekender, in 1990. He looked immaculate in a tight-fitting suit with the whitest, stiffest shirt cuffs I’d ever seen. I was mesmerised by the shirt cuffs as much as the singing, the passion he poured into the material from The Show Must Go On and his new song, After All. Of course, it would have been nice to see him sing with a band, but as karaoke goes, karaoke with Sam Dees takes some beating. I paid £15 for my copy of The Show Must Go On, which is still the most I’ve ever paid for an LP, cheapskate that I am. These days £15 is the norm for vinyl, even cheap, but you can also get The Show Must Go On CD or even listen to the whole thing for free on YouTube.
There’s no need to feel sorry for Sam. He’s had a good life, he’s made a decent amount of money, been lucky in love, and kept away from the bad stuff, llke drugs, although on The Show Must Go On he writes like a man who knows about that shit (listen to Child of the Streets or Signed Miss Heroin if you doubt me). He’s an incredibly gifted and decent man with his head screwed on right, and there aren’t many of us around. Sam Dees, I take my hat off to you.
And the other Dees in my collection:
Damon, Song of a Gypsy (outsiderish psychedelic folk)
Damon Harris, Damon (for some reason I file this under D as well)
Darondo (not really an album, actually a collection of singles, including the Al Green-ish Didn’t I?)
Defunkt, Thermonuclear Sweat (another Phil Johnson tip-off)
Deep Purple, In Concert (less a guilty pleasure, more just “guilty as charged”)
Deerhoof (I have no idea why I have this record)
De La Soul, Three Feet High & Rising (puts the hippy in hip-hop)
Dells, Freedom Means (exquisite Chicago song suite with Terry Callier songs galore)
The Deviants (Mick Farren at play)
Bo Diddley, Black Gladiator/Where It All Began (incendiary blues/soul, including Elephant, the best track ever written about a savannah-dwelling animal with big ears)
The Doors plus LA Woman (the only 2 Doors albums you need, frankly)
Bob Downes, Deep Down Heat (demented jazz/rock vocal & sax work)
Lamont Dozier, Working On You (as smooth as grape wine)
Dr John (Doctor John?) Gris Gris/Babylon (Noo Orleans, but could just as well be Mars)
Dragonfly (US psych, blurring into early metal = great)
Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde, Nashville Skyline, Desire, Street Legal (a controversial and limited cross-section of his works, perhaps?)