What the hell is “Country Funk,” you ask?
That’s the question being posed by Light in the Attic on its new compilation, titled (what else?) Country Funk: 1969-1975. The label goes on to answer, in part, of the “inherently defiant genre”: “the style encompasses the elation of gospel with the sexual thrust of the blues, country hoedown harmony with inner city grit. It is alternately playful and melancholic, slow jammin’ and booty shakin’. It is both studio slick and barroom raw.” Well, those definitions certainly work for us, but you can hear for yourself on the recently-released collection featuring 16 songs from a fantastically eclectic group including Dale Hawkins, Mac Davis, Link Wray, Bobby Charles, Tony Joe White, Bobbie Gentry, Bob(by) Darin and more!
The tracks on Country Funk are all drawn from the period between 1969 and 1975, a time of great soul-searching for many American artists. With the Vietnam War raging on, the Summer of Love in the past and American politics in upheaval, many singers and songwriters looked inward to express the turmoil. (Some even responded to the social climate by turning even further to pop escapism, though that’s a story for another anthology.) It was inevitable that there would be much genre-melding. One of the most chameleonic artists of all time was Bobby Darin, onetime teen idol and Academy Award nominated actor who threw himself into everything from rockabilly to teenybopper pop to brassy Broadway. Darin immersed himself in the counterculture, increasingly uncomfortable with the trappings of showbiz. From his 1969 album Commitment comes “Light Blue,” a dark, sad, folk-style composition from Darin’s own pen.
Though Darin was Bronx-born, many of the figures on Country Funk have deep Southern roots: Louisiana’s Tony Joe White, Dale Hawkins, Johnny Adams and Bobby Charles, Texas’ Mac Davis, Kentucky’s Jim Ford, Mississippi’s Bobbie Gentry. White, Charles and Hawkins all brought the culture of the swamp to their recordings, touching on blues and boogie with songs like “Studspider,” “Street People” and “L.A. Memphis Tyler Texas,” respectively. Another Louisiana native, Mac Rebennack a.k.a. Dr. John, supplied “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” for blues guitarist Johnny Jenkins. Jim Ford reinvented Stevie Wonder’s “I Wanna Make Her Love Me” for his classic 1969 album Harlan County, bringing the country funk to the Motown sound. Like White and Charles, Mac Davis had his greatest successes as a songwriter rather than as a performer; Elvis Presley made standards out of “In the Ghetto” and “Memories.” (Tony Joe White also benefited from The King’s patronage when he adopted “Polk Salad Annie” as his own.) Johnny Adams, whose recordings typically touched on blues, jazz and gospel absorbed in New Orleans, offers “Georgia Morning Dew” from 1970. Davis is heard here as a singer with 1974’s “Lucas Was a Redneck” and a songwriter on John Randolph Marr’s “Hello, L.A., Bye Bye Birmingham” from 1970, co-written with Delaney Bramlett of Delaney and Bonnie. Bobbie Gentry proves that she was much more than just “Ode to Billie Joe” with the earthy (and funky!) “He Made a Woman Out of Me.” And those artists tell just some of the story on Country Funk!
The thick booklet included with Country Funk is loaded with original album artwork and distinct illustrations of the artists by Jess Rotter, plus an essay by Jessica Hundley. John Baldwin has remastered all of the tracks. It’s another impressive and unique compilation from Light in the Attic, and it can be yours at the link below on CD, vinyl or digital download!
- L.A. Memphis Tyler Texas – Dale Hawkins (from L.A. Memphis Tyler Texas, Bell LP 6036, 1969)
- Hello L.A., Bye Bye Birmingham – John Randolph Marr (from John Randolph Marr, Warner Bros. LP WS-1844, 1970)
- Georgia Morning Dew – Johnny Adams (from Heart and Soul, SSS LP SSS-5, 1970)
- Lucas Was a Redneck – Mac Davis (from Stop and Smell the Roses, Columbia LP 80029, 1974)
- Light Blue – Bob Darin (from Commitment, Direction 1937, 1969)
- I’m Wanta Make Her Love Me – Jim Ford (from Harlan County, Sundown/White Whale LP JHS 1002, 1969)
- Hawg Frog – Gray Fox (MGM single K-14068, 1969)
- Fire and Brimstone – Link Wray (from Link Wray, Polydor LP 24-0464, 1971)
- Street People – Bobby Charles (from Bobby Charles, Bearsville LP BR-2104, 1972)
- Funky Business – Cherokee (from Cherokee, ABC S-719, 1970)
- Stud Spider – Tony Joe White (from Tony Joe White, Warner Bros. LP SLP-18142, 1970)
- Piledriver – Dennis the Fox (from Mother Trucker, MusArt LP MA-801, 1975)
- Ohoopee River Bottomland – Larry Jon Wilson (from New Beginnings, Monument LP KZ-33382, 1975)
- He Made a Woman Out of Me – Bobbie Gentry (from Fancy, Capitol ST-428, 1970)
- Bayou Country – Gritz (Ode single 66017, 1970)
- I Walk on Gilded Splinters – Johnny Jenkins (from Ton Ton Macoute!, Capricorn LP CPN-0136, 1972)