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 fourteen spook-tacular and frighteningly funky cuts for your trick-or-treat pumpkin baskets, best enjoyed under a full moon. There is so much amazing Halloween-inspired music out there spanning many genres, from garage rock and early rock ’n' roll to campy ‘60s stuff and everything in between. So get out there and dig—this is just the tip of the candy pile! For this “Soul-O-Ween'' edition of Soul Picnic, I decided to focus my attention on creepy cuts from some of my favorite soul, blues, funk, jazz, and R&B artists. I suggest keeping one hand on your lodestone and the other sipping some eyeball stew with lots of garlic for maximum enjoyment and protection. (Cue maniacal laugh).
Melvin Jackson—“Funky Skull Pts. 1 & 2”
Alright, get on your costume and let’s get this Halloween party started with some mysterious tenor saxophone and what sounds like a synthesizer from another realm. But wait, that otherworldly fuzzy sound is actually the filtered, echoey bass of Eddie Harris alumni Melvin Jackson floating funkily atop the solid backing by the Chess/Cadet all stars: drummer Morris Jennings Jr. and guitar men Pete Cosey and Phil Upchurch.
Bobby Byrd—“Back From the Dead”
If you’ve heard James Brown hits like “Sex Machine” or “Make It Funky,” you’ve heard the voice of Bobby Byrd. Byrd was actually the one who discovered James Brown, first meeting him in prison when his group at the time, The Gospel Starlighters, were performing and Brown was serving time for robbery charges. Brown and Byrd later formed People Records together, which offered up many hit songs, including Byrd’s big one, “I Know You Got Soul” (which was later sampled by Eric B. & Rakim in their song of the same name). Byrd recorded the Clarence Reid-produced scorcher, “Back From the Dead” in 1974 for International Brothers Records, and it remains a Halloween Top Five for me.
Mable John—“Sweet Devil”
R&B top dog Little Willie John’s older sister Mable not only penned some of her brother's hits, like the brilliant “I Need Your Love So Bad,” but was also signed to both Gordy/Motown and Stax Records. In between labels John also spent several years as one of Ray Charles’ Raelettes and sang on many of his hits. My absolute favorite of John’s songs is the organ-driven “It’s Catching” that she recorded for Stax. But this soul stomper, written by the legendary team of Isaac Hayes, David Porter, and John herself, is a close second, perfect for some killer R&B Halloween fun.
This track originally came out in 1954 and was yet another penned by Chess Records kingpin and bassist extraordinaire Willie Dixon. However, it was Howlin’ Wolf’s 1969 version—from The Howlin’ Wolf Album on Cadet Records—that got the attention of my generation’s beat diggers. Propelled by legendary Chicago session players Morris Jennings Jr. (drums), Louis Satterfield (bass), Phil Upchurch, and Pete Cosey (guitars) alongside Wolf- and Muddy Waters-guitar mainstay Hubert Sumlin, this version of “Evil” lives up to its name. Funky drum breaks, mean-walking bass, plus wah-wah and fuzz guitar create the perfect menacing backdrop to Wolf’s tortured moan: “You’re a long way from home and can't sleep at night. You know another mule is kickin' in your stall. There’s evil, evil is in your home.”
Otis Redding—“Trick or Treat”
An outtake recorded in 1966 from Rhino’s Definitive Otis Redding CD box set—which features Redding’s regular collaborators Booker T. & The M.G.’s and The Memphis Horns—“Trick or Treat” has become the Halloween go-to for soul music lovers around the globe. On this classic Stax groove, Redding uses his dealings with a complicated and fickle woman to give the Halloween tradition of “trick or treat” a whole new meaning: “So if you love me (don’t say you like me), and if you like me (don’t say you love me). I can’t wait ’til Halloween to find out if it’s trick or treat.”
Oliver Nelson—“Skull Session”
Long gone is the straight-ahead jazz of “Stolen Moments” that saxophonist/arranger Oliver Nelson was so well known for. “Skull Session”—from Nelson’s 1975 moody psychedelic offering of the same name, on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label—was an anomaly. With the ill-fated but rock-solid drumming of future Domino Jimmy Gordon and Latin jazz rhythm god Willie Bobo, the trance-like bass playing of West Coast session man Chuck Domanico, the Space Echo Wurlitzer of Miles Davis cohort and future Cosmic Echo member Lonnie Liston Smith, plus the fuzzy wah-wah guitars of Dennis Budimer and a young and hungry Lee Ritenour, this track barrels through town like a funky, jazz-zombie apocalypse.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins—“There’ Something Wrong With You”
The original “I Put A Spell On You” is a classic I will never get tired of. But my friend Chris Dowd of Fishbone offered me this killer slab from Screamin’ Jay, a track he heard while opening for Hawkins in the ‘80s. The winning recipe of voodoo baritone saxophone, jazz drums, and twangy guitar are doctored up with a marinade of “monkey toes and string beans, roast baboon salad smothered with bubblegum, baked barbecue gorilla ribs and a dish of cow fingers and mosquito pie.” Deeeee-licious.
Originally a saxophone-led instrumental by co-writer and tenor man Mike Sharpe (Shapiro), “Spooky” has been covered by a diverse group of artists, from jazz players like Stanley Turrentine, Cal Tjader, and Oliver Nelson to soul groups like The Fame Gang, The Boris Gardiner Happening, and Dusty Springfield. Dusty’s version is as breezy as a cool October evening, and London’s blue-eyed soul queen is as hip as ever when she sings, “Just like a ghost you’ve been haunting my dreams, but now I know you’re not what you seem.”
King Horror—“Dracula, Prince Of Darkness”
I gotta give it up to my buddy Justin Meyer for turning me onto this spooky slab of Jamaican soul on his Dusty Nuggets Halloween Mix Volume One many years back. According to online vinyl archive 45cat and producer Joe Mansano, King Horror is actually music producer Lloyd Campbell drenched in reverb and coming for you like a bloodthirsty vampire duppy. Campbell died a few years back, but not before producing legendary Jamaican artists like Yellowman, Freddie McGregor, and The Itals.
The Mohawks—“Sound Of The Witch Doctors”
Helmed by UK Hammond organ session wizard and library music king Alan Hawkshaw, who recently passed, “Sound Of The Witch Doctors” is the flip side of the often-sampled “The Champ” (a remake of Lowell Folsom’s classic). True to form for The Mohawks, this slightly more eerie and Caribbean-inspired version of Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music” is a clever instrumental remake of a classic soul tune. R.I.P. Hawk.
Donny Hathaway—“Hearse to The Graveyard”
Come Back Charleston Blue was the sequel to the successful film, Cotton Comes to Harlem, which starred Redd Foxx, whose presence the sequel sorely lacked. However, with both films we get amazing soundtracks. The original is by Hair composer Galt MacDermot, and the sequel is by Chicago phenomenon Donny Hathaway, supervised by none other than Quincy Jones. Pairing Hathaway's incredible feel and classically trained chops with Quincy’s impeccable ears is nothing short of brilliant, and “Hearse To The Graveyard” sets the scene for an ominous and funky Halloween perfectly.
Albert King—“Born Under A Bad Sign”
Stax Records is hands down my favorite record label ever, but when stars-in-their-own-right Booker T. & The M.G.'s decided to back blues legend Albert King, the results were like alchemy, inspiring everyone from Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield to Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The Velvet Bulldozer, as King was nicknamed, sprinkles spirited licks in all the right places with his trusty Gibson Flying V, while bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and drummer Al Jackson Jr. lay down a funky, loping, and trance-like foundation.
The Specials—“Ghost Town”
Everyone my age group knows the classic two-tone masterpiece “Ghost Town” by The Specials, but no Halloween mix would be complete without it. Combining banshee-like backing vocals and haunting wind sound effects with organist Jerry Dammers’ diminished chord tension builds, vocalists Terry Hall and Neville Staples’ vivid depictions of a town in decline, and Horace Panter and John Bradbury’s rocksteady riddim, the track is a perfect skanking anthem for All Hallows Eve. Hall sings,” This town is coming like a ghost town. All the clubs are being closed down. Bands won’t play no more.” To which Staples deadpans, “Too much fighting on the dance floor.”
Lou Rawls—“Evil Woman”
Lou Rawls' output under the tutelage of Capitol Records’ in-house arranger/producer David Axelrod is legendary. “Axe” also famously captained the ship for Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, The Electric Prunes, and his own records, which became sample fodder for Dr. Dre, DJ Shadow, and others. Out of the wealth of recordings, both Axelrod and Rawls left behind this down-and-dirty groove from 1968, a fitting clarion call to all the evil spirits about to make an appearance. Rawls sings, “Ah, woman, when I seen you coming, I should've started running … you evil woman. I offered to you my soul, you ran it over hot coals.”
Bonus Track: Herbie Hancock—“Death Wish (Main Title)”
And a special spooky bonus cut for you from the classic Charles Bronson film of the same name. Until next time, all you ghouls and goblins out there!
Listen on Apple Music/iTunes:
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.
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.