The Complicatist : Lee Moses, and Friends

More obscure soul music gems from the vaults

by Gordon Campbell

Last year when I did a column on obscure soul music, a reader from Sweden wrote in to complain that I’d forgotten to mention Lee Moses. Good call. To make amends, here’s round two of obscure soul sides, and with Moses right to the forefront this time. Lee Moses was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1941, and died there in 1997. A terrific singer, an innovative guitarist – Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys recently named him as an influence – and useful keyboard player, Moses had a recording career that began in the mid 1960s, but lasted only until 1973. For a while, the compilation album Time and Place brought together almost all of his music on the one terrific CD – but that’s now out of print, although Amazon does have one copy right now on sale for a mere $US298. The cover features both of the only known photos of Moses. Youtube is for now, pretty much the sole repository of his musical legacy.

1. Lee Moses : “Time and Place” “Bad Girl”
During the mid 1960s, Moses played with Jimi Hendrix a few times on the club circuit, and later recorded a worthy version of “ Hey Joe” in tribute. IMO though, the fantastic “Time And Place” is the best of Moses’ psychedelia meets Stax soul music mash-ups. Even so, “Bad Girl” is even more unusual, a lurching headlong marriage of garage band propulsion and soulful emoting. In it, the singer defends – even to his own mother Lord have mercy – the girl that broke his heart, and forgives her (“ She just wanted to be free”) while asserting the value of their original love for each other, to a world more than willing to blame her for what went down later. All of this in just over 2 minutes 20 seconds. Songs like “ Bad Girl” probably explain why Moses never found anything beyond a cult audience. Hard to imagine something like it on the radio even now, much less in 1968.


2. Lee Moses : “If Loving You is A Crime” “I’m Sad About It.”
These two are more conventional soul sides, but of no lesser quality. “If Loving You is A Crime (Then Give Me Time, Because I’ll Always Be Guilty)” pays some pretty obvious debts to Otis Redding in the gruff heartfelt vocal – within Redding’s oeuvre, its reminiscent of “ That’s How Strong My Love Is” – but this beautifully written and delivered track has a great lyrical conceit that Moses brings home with feeling. On the other hand, “I’m Sad About It” is a deep soul shuffle with a simple, urgent message about betrayal, remorse, and learning the hard lessons from heartache. You get the picture. She’s gone. He’s sad about it.

3. Lee Moses : “Hey Joe” “ Reach Out/Daytripper “

And finally, a 1971 version of “Hey Joe” completely different from the Hendrix hit, but fully its equal in the way it leisurely builds to a climax punctuated by guitar lines by Moses that doff a hat to Hendrix while pointing forwards to 70s funk. From 1965, there’s also a terrific Hammond organ instrumental version of the Four Tops big hit, combined with a similar keyboard workout by Moses on the Beatles’ “Daytripper.” The guy was a genius and yet died in 1997, completely unheralded.


4. George Perkins “ A Man in Love” Frank Turner “ All For The Kids”

Most of that first soul column I did on obscure soul focussed on Shreveport Louisiana, and its incredible contribution to deep soul. These days, George Perkins is best known for the eerie Martin Luther King inspired semi-hit “ Cryin’ In the Streets” that I linked to in the previous column. “ A Man In Love” is another brilliant Perkins track, a dignified meditation on love’s temptations and the havoc it can wreak. Perkins’ backing group the Silver Stars also turn up on Frank Turner’s “All For My Kids” – one of the few songs about the sacrifices that working parents make for their children. Rather than being sentimental about it, Turner testifies to how hard it is to sustain such dedication day in, year out.


5. Li’l Bob and the Lollipops “I Wake Up Crying” “I Got Loaded” “Nobody But You”

More Louisiana soul. Bob Camille cut some great sides as Lil Bob and the Lollipops, and here’s a pretty solid selection. The dreamlike “ I Wake Up Crying” is the masterpiece here, but there’s an amiable charm to Camille’s celebration of booze (“I Got Loaded”) and to his fine cover version of Dee Clark’s oldie “Nobody But You.”


6. TSU Toronados : “Play The Music Toronados”
The TSU Toronados were a Texas soul collective who were active in the late 1960s ino the early 70s. They were the actual group on Archie Bell and the Drells number one pop and soul hit “Tighten Up” in 1968. I prefer this track, which also exists in a different incarnation on Youtube as the backing track for soul singer James Taylor’s song “Love With Hope.”

7. Bobby Powell “Love Man” “The Glory of Love”

More great things from Louisiana : this time, from Baton Rouge. I linked to Bobby Powell doing the utterly charming wedding song “ The Bells” in the last column, but here he goes all early 1970s bass driven funk style on “ Love Man” and then sings his heart inside out on the old chestnut “ The Glory of Love” hitting some amazing falsetto notes in the process. Powell had a great voice, but could never get properly focussed on a distinctive style of his own.

7. Reuben Bell & The Casanovas “Its Not That Easy” “Superjock”
In the last column I featured Bell’s slow burning classic “You’re Gonna Miss Me” but this one runs it pretty close. From 1967, this short and intense track has a sincerity that’s almost unimaginable in 2013, and the same quality characterised the other stuff on the Murco label that year – such as Eddy Giles timeless “Losin’ Boy” which was recorded on Murco at about the same time. By 1975, Bell could sound pretty comfortable on “Superjock” in a dancefloor setting, but his singing on this track still has more of a soulful edge than the usual funkateering of the day. Born in Shreveport in 1945, Bell died there in 2004.


8. Lee Moses : California Dreaming “ And finally back to Lee Moses again for this great version of “ California Dreaming” – which takes the song down a notch or two from the soaring Mamas and Papas rendition, and grounds it in the grittier, more wasted realities (“I’m freezing!”) of that winter’s day. Where the M & Ps were beautifully wistful (“I’d be safe and warm /If I was in LA”) this one has yearning and desperation : and there’s room for both in anyone’s world.