Hey, everybody. My name is Dan Ubick, but I go by Connie Price when I spin records or get behind the drum kit. Call me Dan or call me Connie (short for Constantine, my middle name). I’m a music producer, musician, and record collector from California.
I’m on a mission, on behalf of NOT REAL ART, to share the songs that catch my ear every month on the Soul Picnic Playlist. Think of them as flavorful dishes from the kitchen’s of my favorite musical chefs, if you will. I love all kinds of music regardless of genre or era but, full disclosure, I do have an ongoing love affair with the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
I’m lucky to have so many amazingly talented people in my life who are as obsessed with music as I am. I’m constantly turned on to songs that make me say, “How have I never heard this??” The monthly Soul Picnic playlists are me returning the favor. I hope you find your new favorite song here, and it makes you smile, feel understood, or keeps you positive.
So pop on some headphones, wire yourself into a good set of speakers, or go hunt down the original copies on vinyl at your local record store for the full effect. These tracks all deserve it.
Ted Hawkins—“Strange Conversation”
Mississippi’s Ted Hawkins’ voice drew me in from the very first time I heard it; it sounds like a direct extension of the man’s raw soul (plus, the man wrote so many great songs). After busking for years on the Venice Beach boardwalk and garnering quite a following in Europe, Hawkins secured a string of record deals culminating in The Next Hundred Years, a masterpiece of an album that lists “Strange Conversation” as one of its tracks.
Big Star—“The Ballad Of El Goodo
Memphis’ Big Star gave us three records in their short lifespan, and this track from their debut #1 Record a favorite. Equally indebted to the Beatles, the Stones, and The Byrds, the group created their own blend of soulful pop music with ace songwriters Chris Bell and Alex Chilton, and a rock-solid rhythm section in drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel. Recorded at famed Memphis recording studio Ardent, Big Star’s #1 Record sold modestly upon release but went on to become a huge influence on household names like R.E.M. and The Replacements.
Bobby Charles—“Street People”
Bobby Charles wrote quite a few hits in his lifetime for others, including “See You Later Alligator” for Bill Haley & The Comets, “Walking To New Orleans” for Fats Domino, and “(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do” for Clarence “Frogman” Henry. However, it wasn’t until Bobby paired up with Dr. John, Neil Young, lap steel guitar guru Ben Keith, and most of The Band to cut 1972’s Bobby Charles LP on Bearsville Records that his own cajun vocal twang came to the forefront. “Street People,” the first track, has that same loping Levon Helm backbeat we know and love from The Band cuts “Life Is A Carnival” and “Up On Cripple Creek.” Charles romantically opines: “What a great place to know what I know, I'm happy where I'm at. Some people would rather work, we need people like that.”
Reverend Gary Davis—“Samson & Delilah”
Growing up, I’d always heard The Grateful Dead perform this song in their live sets. I thought it was catchy, but when I finally heard the version that inspired Bob Weir, I was floored and listened to it over and over and over again. That voice! The Reverend Gary Davis was indeed a Baptist minister and this congregant sings his praises. Check out the man himself at the famed Newport Folk Festival in 1963, laying it down like only he can.
Bob Dylan—“One More Cup Of Coffee”
Nobody will ever write verses like Bob Dylan. His writing is as prolific as it is insightful, entertaining, and, at times, heartbreaking. This gem from 1976’s Desire, apparently written on his birthday after he visited a gypsy festival in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in Provence, France, tells tales of fallen kings and mysterious muses, and features the sultry violin runs of Scarlet Riviera, whom he met soon after penning these words:
Your sister sees the future like your momma and yourself.
You’ve never learned to read or write,
there’s no books upon your shelf.
And your pleasure know no limits
Your voice is like a meadow lark
But your heart is like an ocean
Mysterious and dark
I always have a current favorite Dylan song, but this dark jewel has been lingering on my turntable for a while.
The Faces—“Love Lives Here”
Deservedly, the Faces’ big hits, “Stay With Me” and “Ooh La La,” get all the accolades, but this tender ballad from the band’s A Nod Is As Good As A Wink…To a Blind Horse LP just kills me every time. We all have places in our past that become unrecognizable with time, and Rod Stewart reflects on that feeling so touchingly. Plus, if anyone ever wonders how Ronnie Wood snatched up one of the best gigs in rock ’n’ roll, just take a listen to his playing on this cut—so tasty, soulful, and not a note too many. Get it, Woody!
Freddie Scott—“Are You Lonely For Me Baby?”
Rhode Island’s Freddie Scott grew up singing in his grandmother's gospel group. Later, he produced records for Erma Franklin and eventually signed to Bert Berns’ Shout label where he cut this absolutely jaw-dropping three minutes and fifteen seconds of soul. Keith Richards, a musical guru of mine, chose this track as one of his desert-island tracks for England’s Far Out Magazine.
Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66—“For What It’s Worth”
Stephen Stills’ tale of unrest in the streets was a crowning achievement in Buffalo Springfield's catalogue, but once Brasil ’66 got a hold of it, they took it to another level. It’s not often that cover versions outdo the original, but this funky take on “For What It’s Worth” from their Stillness LP wins the prize for me. The blend of Fender Rhodes piano, caxixi (shakers), and the sultry voice of Gracinha, all supported by drummer Mark Stevens and bassist Joe Osborn, are deliciously funky from beginning to end.
“Sweet” Charles Sherrell—“Soul Man”
Speaking of covers that give the originals a run for their money! Check out one-time James Brown bass player Sweet Charles Sherrell’s incredible reimagining of Sam & Dave’s classic “Soul Man,” courtesy of The Godfather’s People label. Heavy percussion over tight drums support Sherrell’s velvet falsetto while all the ladies swoon.
From producer extraordinaire Quincy Jones and orchestrator-conductor Frank Foster comes this wicked version of Little Willie John’s “Fever” off Sarah Vaughan’s 1965 Viva! Vaughan LP. Top-notch session players—including Willie Bobo on percussion, Bob James on piano and Jerome Richardson on the flute—create the perfect playful yet steamy backdrop for Vaughan’s velveteen vocals. The way she sings, “I light up when you call my name,” is pure, God-given melodic genius.
Richie Havens—“High Flying Bird”
Written by folk-country singer Billy Ed Wheeler and first recorded by Judy Henske in1963, this spirited and soul-filled version by Bed-Stuy crown jewel Richie Havens on his debut LP Mixed Bag is the version that captured my attention (and Jimi Hendrix’s as well, apparently). Propelled by drummer Bill LaVorgna, bass ace Harvey Brooks, and the fleet-fingered licks of electric guitarist Howard Collins, Havens indeed takes flight, though his mind seems preoccupied with troubles below.
Willie Nelson—“I Never Cared For You”
Willie Nelson first recorded this song in 1963 for Monument Records, but it’s the Daniel Lanois-produced version on Teatro, with sublime backing vocals from Emmylou Harris, that blew my mind. It captures the vibe of the lyrics perfectly: “The sun is cold as ice and gives no warmth at all. The sky was never blue. The stars are raindrops searching for a place to fall, and I never cared for you.” Definitely not a wedding song.
Gerry Rafferty—“Mary Skeffington”
Many know Gerry Rafferty from his group Stealers Wheels and their hit, “Stuck in the Middle,” but Rafferty notable offerings are numerous, including this exquisitely crafted pre-Stealers track from the LP Can I Have My Money Back? Rafferty’s gift for twisting melodies and touching lyrics are on full display here: “Mary Skeffington, close your eyes and make believe that you are just a girl again. Go to sleep tonight, dream of days when you had something there to light the way.”
Nick Drake—“Saturday Sun”
While attending the University Of Cambridge, Nick Drake’s guitar songwriting skills got him signed to Island Records at 20 years old. Soon after he released his first album, the baroque masterpiece Five Leaves Left. With Drake on piano here instead of his regular Guild acoustic guitar, and supported by Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Tristam Fry, the melancholic songwriter reflects on the rare days of sunshine in England: “Saturday’s sun has turned to Sunday’s rain.” Just a lovely track to leave you with during this rainy February.
Listen to the playlist on Apple Music:
The Last Word: If you love these songs, please buy physical copies if you’re able. Spotify, YouTube, and other streaming services are great tools, but streaming doesn’t pay artists a living wage. We want these amazing folks to keep making the music we cherish.
Love music as much as we do? Then check out Dan Ubick’s production company, DanUbe Productions, and drop him a line if you’re so inclined.