Burning Spear – Cadet USA / Chess UK1967
I Wish It Would Rain – 1968
Within You Without You
Comin’ Home Baby
FABULOUS, simply fabulous soul jazz instrumentals, with an equally fantastic line-up of Chess staff musicians. These tracks by the soulful Strings were massively popular at Manchester‘s Blue Note Club, and also played at the Twisted Wheel later. The DJays imported the 45’s direct from the USA but I don’t know where the ‘Wheel’ got theirs from. Oh yes it was released in the UK I forgot.
Bassist Richard Evans produced for Marlena Shaw, Ramsey Lewis, Brother Jack Mc Duff, Odell Brown and many other Chess/Cadet artists.
George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” by these guys just has to be heard to be believed – incredible!
1966 to 1971 the Soulful Strings made six or seven LPs with the fantastic first one being played till the grooves wore out at the Blue Note. The Soulful Strings were in fact the Chess house band; Lennie Druss (flute, woodwinds) Charles Stepney (organ/vibes), Phil Upchurch (guitar), Cleveland Eaton (bass) Bobby Christian/Billy Wooten (vibes). They also released a version of the Who Who Song (orig Jackie Wilson).
Richard Evans was the arranger for Natalie Cole, Peabo Bryson and Ahmad Jamal. He is still associated with music being the professor of music at famous Berkley College Boston.
As homage to them a group called S.O.U.L. did a version (a good one) of “Burning Spear” in early 1971.
Notes from the re-released LP publicity
GROOVIN’ with THE SOULFUL STRINGS
Soulful Strings – Burning Spear (from Groovin’ with the Soulful Strings)
‘Burning Spear’ is by far Richard Evans best known composition. Since he recorded it with the Soulful Strings it was covered by Jimmy Smith, Joe Pass, S.O.U.L., Salsoul Orchestra, and then again by Evans during the disco era when it was a hit all over again. Opening with the sounds of the kalimba (a frequent ingredient in Evans productions of the era), the tune is soon stated by Lennie Druss’ flute, followed immediately by a pounding drum beat, which never lets up. ‘Burning Spear’ really is a Druss feature (proving once again that aside from Evans himself, Druss really was one of the biggest parts of the sound of the Soulful Strings) and the sections of the song where the vibes are playing in unison with the flute are
excellent. The cut also features a great guitar solo by Phil Upchurch.
Soulful Strings – I Wish It Would Rain (Soulful Strings in Concert).
Whether it’s actually “live” or not, ‘In Concert’ is one of the best of the Soulful Strings LP’s. It features a killer version of ‘There Was a Time’, an extended refiguring of Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ and a funky take of Eddie Harris’s ‘Listen Here’. However, my favourite tune on the LP (and one of my fave SS cuts overall) is their take on the Temptations ‘I Wish It Would Rain’. Sublime is a word I often find myself using when discussing Richard Evans, especially his work with the Soulful Strings, and his arrangement here meets the definition of that word to a tee. Evans created an arrangement in which the dynamics change fairly drastically by the middle of the tune, but the change is so gradual on the way there as to be almost unnoticeable. ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ opens with a quiet bass and some handclaps (which grow in intensity), the guitar comes in slowly, stating the first verse, accompanied subtly by the vibes. The drums and strings come in for the second verse, followed by the flute. This kind of gradual build is something that he was a master at. Soulful Strings – Chocolate Candy (String Fever).
‘String Fever’ is by far the best of the Soulful Strings albums. It features some of Evan’s funkiest arrangements, and is largely composed of Evans originals. ‘Chocolate Candy’ features a hard beat, wild strings and some excellent flute work by Lennie Druss. In many ways Druss is really the star of ‘String Fever’. Evans gives him lots of solo space, and he uses it well, wailing with some wild, Jeremy Steig-like overblowing effects. This tune also features some funky harmonica. Richard Evans may be the great unsung genius of 60’s soul. His work as staff arranger/producer at Cadet saw him working with everyone from Woody Herman (with whom he made some tasty, and occasionally funky, LP’s) to Ramsey Lewis and Marlena Shaw. He was also an outstanding composer. The Soulful Strings were his pet project, and despite the ‘easy/cheezy’ name, they did some incredibly cool records in the late 60’s (even scoring a hit with ‘Burning Spear’). The a-side cover of the Eddie Harris classic is one of my favourite versions of the tune, managing to be subdued, yet funky. The B-side is the killer here, though. If you really want to hear someone breathe new life into a song you’ve heard too many times, the Soulful Strings version of ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ is the place to start. There are moments here that verge on the sublime, while, like all of their recordings, remaining soulful. Now if someone would release these LP’s on CD (please.)
As a tribute: “Burning Spear” was also recoded by Jimmy Smith.
A couple more:
The Who Who Song
Wikipedia: The Soulful Strings