Portia Monique is a seriously talented singer-songwriter; her self entitled debut album is a perfect summary of that. Produced by Reel People main men Oli Lazarus and regular studio cohort Toni Economides , it includes the track Ain't Scared Of You; this sublime version is a remix by Sweden’s Mr. Funky, Opolopo.
The soulful house scene is alive with quality tracks and quality vocalists like this.
Soulpersona is musician, producer, remixer, arranger and founder of the Digisoul label. From the well received underground success of his debut Soulacoaster album, he has gone on to produce and release the highly acclaimed The Lapdancer, a concept album starring Princess Freesia (Lija Rolavs) as her alter ego Avalon Lexus and most recently with the album Amalgamation under the Soulperfreesia guise as Princess Freesia.
Soulpersona's production credits include Charlie Wilson, Jocelyn Brown, Jody Watley, Light Of The World and many other soulful acts. He is currently working on a brand new rare groove album for Jocelyn Brown.
Going back to Soulperfreesia, the purpose of that guise is for creating music inspired by the 70's and 80's soul, jazz funk and rare groove movement; a great example of their work is the track featured today, Love Won't Do Me Right, a great slice of authentic 1980's-inspired soul with catchy vocals by Freesia.
Its amazing how people think that the Mark Ronson track Uptown Funk sounds true to a 1980's soul/funk sound, when to my ears, its a homage and nothing else. A pretty decent one, but still a facsimile of the real thing. But Love Won't Do Me Right sounds so 'right', if someone pressed it onto vinyl and stuck a fake 1980s label on it, I'd be fooled. Hell, I've listened to it several times in the last few days and I'd still swear it was an old 1980s track.
An instant classic.
Welcome to Cover To Cover, where we compare two versions of the same song and decide which is better, but only in our opinion.
Today's song? Strawberry Letter 23, originally by Shuggie Otis, versus The Brothers Johnson's version.
THE SHUGGY OTIS VERSION
Shuggie otis' father is none other than the mighty West Coast R&B master Johnny Otis (he of TheJohnny Otis Show,Willie & The Hand Jive and Watts Breakaway), and his work as something of a child prodigy had made it’s way onto my radar screen (however faintly) over the years. Born in 1953, Shuggie was playing guitar professionally by the time he was in junior high school. He recorded sessions with Frank Zappa and Al Kooper (in addition to playing on several of his fathers sessions), and released his first solo LP Al Kooper Introduces Shuggie Otis in 1969. He recorded one more LP - Here Comes Shuggie Otis - before producing Freedom Flight in 1971, that contains Strawberry Letter 23.
Inspiration Information was also the first inkling I had that Shuggie Otis had written and recorded the original version of Strawberry Letter 23. Though the 1974 LP that gave the reissue it’s name is generally accepted as the better of the two early 70’s releases, Freedom Flight definitely has it’s moments. There, bluesy guitars stand side by side with hippiefied lyrics, soulful vocals and the kind of vaguely psychedelic touches that were starting to pass out of the collective musical vocabulary as the 70’s began. There also were startling (for 1971) sounds, like integrating a primitive beat-box into his records. Though his music isn't sparse, there’s a tasteful (and deliberate) lack of sonic overload on them. The vibe is perfect, but doomed in its day by being too soulful for the rock crowd and too trippy for R&B radio.
Amazingly, Shuggy's version of the song never saw any real success in any of the Billboards charts, although his 1974 single Inspiration Information reached no.56 on the Billboard R&B chart and the re-release of of the album of the same name (along with Wings Of Love, an anthology of new and unreleased work) reached no.34 in the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in 2013.
THE BROTHERS JOHNSON VERSION
One of my personal favourite songs, I can never get tired of hearing it. And have - ahem - played air guitar to that Lee Ritenour guitar solo...
While they never hit the "superstar" level like contemporaries Rick James or Kool & The Gang, The Brothers Johnson racked up several hit singles, platinum discs and Grammy Awards during their heyday throughout the 1970s.
The Brothers Johnson are guitarist/vocalist George Johnson aka 'Lightnin' Licks' and bassist/vocalist Louis E. Johnson aka 'Thunder Thumbs'.
They initially formed the band Johnson Three Plus One with older brother Tommy and their cousin Alex Weir while attending school in Los Angeles. When they became professionals, the band backed such touring R&B acts as Bobby Womack and the Supremes. George and Louis later joined Billy Preston's band and wrote Music in My Life and The Kids & Me for Preston before leaving his group in 1973. In 1976, The Brothers covered the Beatles' song, Hey Jude, for the ephemeral musical documentary All This and World War II.
Quincy Jones hired them to play on his album Mellow Madness, and recorded four of their songs, including Is It Love That We're Missing? and Just a Taste of Me. They then toured with Quincy in Japan and produced their debut album Look Out For #1, released in March 1976 (reaching no.1 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart). Their Right On Time album was released in May 1977 and reached no.13 on the Billboard Hot 200. Blam! came out in August 1978 and reached no. 7 on the Billboard 200.
Two of the duo's songs were featured on the soundtrack of the 1976 film Mother, Jugs & Speed. The instrumental track Thunder Thumbs and Lightnin' Licks is a tribute to their nicknames. Get the Funk Out Ma Face was co-written with Quincy Jones. Light Up The Night was released in March 1980 and rose to no.5 on the Billboard 200. It was nò.46 on the Top 100 LPs of 1980 list in Rolling Stone Magazine. The brothers self-produced the subsequent album, Winners; released in July 1981, it only reached no.48 on the Billboard 200.
They probably achieved their greatest singles success from the mid-1970s to early '80s, with three singles topping the R&B charts: I'll Be Good to You (Billboard Hot 100 no.3 in 1976), Ain't We Funkin' Now (1978), and the legendary Stomp! (Hot 100 no.7 and Hot Dance Music/Club Play no.1 in 1980). Strawberry Letter 23 reached no.5 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1977 and was featured on the Right On Time album.
The story of how they came to cover the song is one of ironic coincidence; George Johnson was dating one of Shuggie Otis' cousins when he came across the Freedom Flight album that featured the song. The brothers later recorded it for Right On Time, under producer Quincy Jones, and the now-famous Shuggie Otis guitar solo was re-interpreted by ave jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour.
The album went platinum. Strawberry Letter 23, as recorded by The Brothers Johnson in a funkier, more dance-oriented vein than the original Otis version, hit the Hot 100, peaked at no.5 and reached no.1 on the US Soul Singles chart in 1977.
Since its original release, it came to the attention of a new generation by being used in Quentin Tarantino's film Jackie Brown.
A tough one for me, this; I knew the Brothers Johnson version long before I had even heard of Shuggie Otis.
Their version is near-perfect; George and Louis' flawless guitar work, Ritenour's dreamy solo, Quincy's subtle little touches in his production. For me, the song is timeless and stands near-endless repeated playing and stands together with Stomp! as the Brothers at the height of their powers.
But Shuggie Otis original has the better vocals and sounds more sensuous, whereas the Brothers Johnson version is faster, more funky, more danceable.
But I have to award this match-up to Shuggie Otis. His version is a trippy delight; its like running through a meadow with the love of your life; holding hands while spinning each other around, threading flowers in each others hair.
And given when it was created I have no doubt that is almost exactly what Shuggy Otis had in mind.