Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Rotary Connection (psychedelic soul)

I'm currently exploring some great early 70s psychedelic soul bands. So why not check some out yourselves. First up is an album by The Rotary Connection...
The following text is a copy of a wikipedia document. If you don't feel like reading and want to start groovin right away, just skip to the link below.

Rotary Connection was a psychedelic soul band formed in Chicago in 1966. The highly experimental band was the idea of Marshall Chess, son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. Marshall was the director behind a start-up label, Cadet Concept Records, and wanted to focus on music outside of the blues and rock genres, which had made the Chess label popular. This led Marshall to turn his attention to the burgeoning psychedelic movement. He recruited Charles Stepney, a vibraphonist and classically-trained arranger and producer for sonic wizardry. Marshall then recruited members of a little-known white rock band, The Proper Strangers: Bobby Simms, Mitch Aliotta, and Ken Venegas. Sidney Barnes, a songwriter within the Chess organization, also joined, as did Judy Hauff and a Chess receptionist named Minnie Riperton, who would later be successful in her own solo career. Marshall also called up prominent session musicians associated with the Chess label, including guitarist Phil Upchurch and drummer Morris Jennings.

The band released their self-titled debut album in late 1967. It plays like a melange of styles, borrowing heavily from pop, rock, and soul, but in a way that isn't entirely radio-friendly. The album also boasts an Eastern influence through its use of the sitar on Turn Me On and Memory Band. Stepney's arrangements, brought to life by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, imbue the album with a certain dreamlike quality; this would become a trademark of both the arranger and the mouthpiece. The album proved to be a modest success within the Midwest, but failed to make an impact nationally -- this was to be the Rotary's ultimate fate.

The band returned in 1968 with a pair of albums, Aladdin and Peace. The former was the group's proper sophomore effort, and it found Riperton assuming a more prominent vocal role than the "background instrument" status she had on the debut. The latter was a Christmas release, with strong pervasive messages of love and understanding for a nation in the grips of Vietnam. The album's cover art of a hippie Santa Claus more than makes its intentions known. Peace is notable for being involved in controversy: an anti-war cartoon in a December 1968 edition of Billboard magazine featured a graphic image of a bruised and bloodied Santa on a Vietnam battlefield. Mistaking this cartoon for the album's cover art, Montgomery Ward cancelled all shipments of the album.

Rotary Connection would release three more albums: Songs, in 1969, a collection of drastic reworkings of other artist's songs, including Otis Redding's Respect and The Band's The Weight; Dinner Music in 1970, in which they added elements of folk and country into the mix along with some electronic experimentation, and; Hey Love in 1971, where the band, oddly credited as the New Rotary Connection, ended its career with a jazz-oriented affair. From this particular album came the uplifting I am the Black Gold of the Sun, which was famously covered in 1997 by underground dance outfit Nuyorican Soul.

After the break-up of the band, Stepney served as a producer and arranger for other artists, most notably the soul outfit Earth, Wind, & Fire. He died in 1976 of a heart attack. Minnie Riperton enjoyed the fruits of a successful solo career until breast cancer ended her life in 1979. Sidney Barnes continues to work a singer and songwriter, and in recent years has gained a following in the U.K. The other remaining members of the band either attempted other, lower-profile, musical endeavours or divorced themselves entirely of the business. Thanks to reissues of their catalog in the late 1990s and the appropriation of material through sampling within the hip-hop community, Rotary Connection has been formally introduced to a new generation.

The Rotary Connection - Hey Love (1971). Get it here.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I have been searching for this group with little success. Any other albums from them (except Peace) would be appreciated.
Gary

dgram said...

This is a great album. If I didn't have it already, I'd be downloading it right now. As you should. Charles Stepney's one of the greats. No question. And TheRotary Connection? I can't really get down with their Christmas album, but everything else I've heard is excellent.

So I'm wondering if, by chance, you would have either of the Terry Callier/Charles Stepney albums, I Just Can't Help Myself or Occasional Rain? I'd love to hear these again. It's been years.

Thanks for the great posts!

dgram said...

This is a great album. If I didn't have it already, I'd be downloading it right now. As you should. Charles Stepney's one of the greats. No question. And TheRotary Connection? I can't really get down with their Christmas album, but everything else I've heard is excellent.

So I'm wondering if, by chance, you would have either of the Terry Callier/Charles Stepney albums, I Just Can't Help Myself or Occasional Rain? I'd love to hear these again. It's been years.

Thanks for the great posts!

enbob89 said...

I've been trying to find their eponymous album everywhere: http://www.discogs.com/release/1070749

Anonymous said...

try the "it's psych" forum