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 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. 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 be surrounded by tons of talented people who are as obsessed with music as I am. They constantly turn me on to songs that make me think, How have I never heard this before?! I created Soul Picnic so I could pass my own discoveries on to you. I hope you find a new favorite here, and it makes you smile, feel understood, or keeps you positive.
This month I put together 14 of my favorite R&B tracks from the ‘50s and ‘60s to keep you all tapping your toes into 2022. Wishing you health, wealth, and happiness.
Sugar Pie DeSanto—“Can’t Let You Go”
San Francisco native Peylia Marsema Balinton was given the stage name “Sugar Pie” by the legendary Johnny Otis, who discovered her and took her on the road in the mid-1950s. (James Brown took her on the road as well in 1959/60.) Sugar Pie was also a childhood friend of Etta James, who she ended up duetting with on singles like “Do I Make Myself Clear” and “In The Basement,” which both became hits for Chicago’s Chess Records. The Chess single here, “Can’t Let You Go,” is as infectious as Sugar Pie’s personality with its catchy hook and slinky bass and guitar line.
Ray Charles— “Talkin’ ‘Bout You”
“Talkin’ ‘Bout You” was yet another swingin', get-up-and-move single on Atlantic for Ray Charles in 1958. It was later covered by The Animals, Jerry Garcia, and Brenda Lee, but as is usually the case, it’s hard to beat the original by “The Genius” himself. However, there is an incredible version of Charles and the group performing the song live at the Newport Jazz Festival in ’58 on YouTube for anyone interested. Charles sings, “Who is the salt in my bread? Who is my doctor on my sick bed? Nobody but you.”
Little Walter—“Up the Line”
Born in rural Louisiana, Marion “Little Walter'' Jacobs eventually made his way to Chicago and became an integral part of Muddy Waters’ band. Known historically as a great innovator on the harmonica for his use of a microphone through a tube amplifier, the technique gave Walter an edge and roughness not previously heard in recorded music. Walter played on numerous hits by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Otis Rush, Bo Diddley, Shel Silverstein(!), and many others, but also scored a good many hits under his own name for the Chess label, including “My Babe,” “Juke,” and the hip-shaker below, “Up the Line.”
Junior Parker & His Blue Flames—“Mystery Train”
Recorded in 1953 at the Memphis Recording Service for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, “Mystery Train” might be one of the most influential songs of all time. Covered to enormous success two years later by a little-known rockabilly crooner named Elvis Presley, the tune catapulted said handsome devil to the top of the charts. “Mystery Train” was also re-recorded by The Band, feat. Paul Butterfield, on their Moondog Matinee LP, The Turtles, and many others throughout the years. But once again, the original Memphis R&B version by Junior Parker & His Blue Flames has proved hard to beat.
Shirley Ellis—“The Nitty Gritty”
I first heard Gladys Knight & the Pips funky 1969 version of “Nitty Gritty” on the Soul label, and still love it to death, but when I heard Shirley Ellis’ original 1963 version on Congress Records, I just loved her totally different take on the song. Gone is the chicken pickin’, Hohner Clavinet, and The Pips trademark backup vocals; instead we get a superb live recording with fans clapping along, a tight horn section, and so much energy it makes me want to get up and dance every time I put it on.
George & Lee—“Nobody But You”
The George & Lee this 45 is credited to are George Davis and Lee Diamond, who also wrote the classic “Tell it Like It Is,” made famous by Aaron Neville and Nina Simone. “Nobody But You” was cut in 1968 for the International City label out of New Orleans, and its catchy melodies and tough but sweet horn parts will hook into you and won’t let go.
Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats—“Rocket 88”
Jackie Brenston was indeed the lead singer of Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, but the band on “Rocket 88” was actually Ike Turner and his Kings Of Rhythm, and boasts being one of the very first recordings to feature distorted/fuzz guitar. Recorded by Memphis studio legend Sam Phillips, “Rocket 88” and was licensed to Chess Records in 1951 and went straight to number one on the R&B charts, played constantly on jukeboxes around the country.
Willie Cobbs—“I’ll Love Only You”
Known primarily as the man behind the everlasting hit song “You Don’t Love Me” (see reggae queen Dawn Penn’s “No, No, No”), Willie Cobbs was a blues singer, harmonica player, and songwriter originally from Arkansas who moved to the big city of Chicago where he made his mark. I am a sucker for inventive horn arrangements, and “I’ll Love Only You,” a single for the Riceland label in 1969, does not disappoint in that department. Cobbs pours his heart out here: “Please don’t hurt me, I been hurt once before. Darlin’ please hold me and never let me go. I swear I’ll be true…I’ll love only you.”
Mable John—“It’s Catching”
This B-Side on Stax Records might be one of my favorite 45s of all time, and most definitely my favorite by Mable John. It’s partly the funky drums, loping bass line, horn punches, and elastic Hammond organ parts that grab me, but it’s the song itself and its lyrics about a ruthless serial heartbreaker that really pull you in. John sings, “I don’t know how you do it, baby, but you do. ‘Cause the mean loving that you puttin’ down ain’t causing nothin’ but heartaches and pain.” Dude is playing around with Mable and Joan, messing with their heads. Not cool.
Bobby Bland—“Don’t Cry No More”
This single from Bobby “Blue” Bland’s debut LP, Two Steps From The Blues, was released on the Memphis-based Duke label in 1961, and features the ever-funky backbeat of future James Brown drummer John “Jabo” Starks. Helmed by arranger/saxophonist/composer Joe Scott and sparked by the fluid and soulful guitar playing of Clarence Holloman, the LP and single went on to the top of the charts that year and solidified Bland as a force to be reckoned with.
Hank Marr—“The Push”
Columbus, Ohio, native and Hammond organ master Hank Marr, alongside tenor saxophone player Rusty Bryant, co-led the group you hear here from 1958 until the mid-60s. “The Push” is the only instrumental on this month's playlist but it stands up melodically and rhythmically, no question. Marr’s Hammond B3, Bryant’s tenor saxophone, and guest guitar player Freddie King’s Gibson ES-345 found their perfect counterparts; this band is cooking with gas.
James Brown and the Famous Flames—“It Hurts To Tell You”
This 1959 Federal Records B-side is a gem from James Brown and Bobby Byrd’s Famous Flames, who also brought us hits like “Please, Please, Please,” “Try Me,” “Think,” “I’ll Go Crazy,” and more. If you like spot-on group harmony singing that makes you want to sing along to every line, this one’s for you.
Little Willie John—“I’m Shakin’”
Mable John’s older brother Little Willie John is widely regarded as one of the best R&B singers to ever record on magnetic tape. He’s influenced everyone from Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles to Stevie Wonder and James Brown, who recorded an entire LP, Thinking About Little Willie John and a Few Nice Things, in John’s honor. “I’m Shakin’” is one of my favorites from John’s catalogue because of the way he interprets Rudy Toombs’ lyrics, and for the baritone saxophone-led groove the band lays down behind him.
The “5” Royales—“It Hurts Inside”
The songs that Lowman “Pete” Pauling wrote for North Carolina-based group The “5” Royales were covered by everyone from Ike & Tina Turner and Ray Charles (“Tell The Truth”) to The Mamas And The Papas (“Dedicated To the One I Love”) and James Brown (“Think”). But it’s this 1959 single on King Records that my friend and fellow R&B enthusiast Adam Hayden turned me onto that made me a super fan.
Listen in iTunes / Apple Music:
The Last Word: If you love these songs, please buy physical copies if you’re able. Spotify, Apple Music/iTunes, 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 and give music the value it deserves.
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.