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Lowrider Soul


Don’t we all have semi-mythical places and cultures of which we’d like to have been a part? One of mine is East LA, and the Chicano culture of soul music and cars. I probably caught the obsession from listening to the two best records Frank Zappa ever made: “Memories of El Monte” by the Penguins and Cruisin’ with Ruben and the Jets.

This is Lowrider Soul is an Ace/Kent compilation of the music enjoyed by the current generation of Mexican Americans who take old cars and customise them in a particular style, starting by dropping the suspension. I’m not going to go any further into the automotive side of it. All I need to say is that, to judge from this CD, they have immaculate taste in music.

There are 24 tracks here, put together by Sean Hampsey, all dating from 1962-70, and I’d heard only three of them before. For me, it’s a treasury of brilliant discoveries, unified by mood: these are slow jams from the moment when doo-wop morphed into soul. Mostly pleading and woebegone, they’re wrenching and transcendent in the way the best soul music always has been.

There’s a strong possibility that you’re familiar with “It’s Not That Easy” by Reuben Bell with the Casanovas, since it was on Vol 1 of Dave Godin’s classic Deep Soul Treasures series a few years ago. I already knew the two sides taken from the Stax/Volt catalogue: William Bell’s “Crying All By Myself” and the Charmels’ “As Long As I’ve Got You”, a Hayes/Porter ballad that is high on my all-time girl-group chart. But I didn’t know “Shattered Dreams” by the Endeavours, or “As I Sit Here” by the Whispers (cut well before their great run of ’70s hits), Barbara Mason’s “Oh How It Hurts” (a beautiful follow-up to “Yes I’m Ready”), Brenton Wood’s “Where Were You” or the glorious “Why’d You Put Me On” by Bobbi Row and the Englishmen, an outlandish alias for the great Don Julian and the Meadowlarks. Or the rest, most of them from obscure labels such as Popside, Double Shot and Chant, as well as better known soul houses like Atco, Doré, Arctic and Kent. It makes you wonder whether that the great well of soul obscurities is ever going to run dry.

So in this dream I’m in a maroon ’49 Mercury lead sled, chopped, channeled and lowered, heading east down Pomona Blvd towards El Monte Legion Stadium, away from the neon sunset. And on top of the growl from the car’s flathead V8, This is Lowrider Soul is the soundtrack.


8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sold.

    March 3, 2019
  2. Corinne Drewery #

    Thank you- sounds superb. Cruiser revved up & ready.

    March 3, 2019
  3. Russ Tuffery #

    Three CDs’ worth of the type of soul favoured by L.A. Chicanos was released in the late 90s by Rhino – “Brown Eyed Soul.”

    March 4, 2019
  4. GuitarSlinger #

    A great sounding CD well worth the price documenting a fascinating aspect of the LA music scene most are unaware of beyond a possible song or two . But the reality is the music culture of East LA goes way beyond what this CD is presenting … but trust me Richard … be glad you never lived there . All the romanticized visions you may have are just that . Over romanticized visions of a part of LA during an era that on the best of days was a war zone just waiting to explode . And in light of the prejudice racism and bigotry that continues to this day ? Can you really blame them ?

    March 4, 2019
  5. Mick Steels #

    Aware you’ve always rated “Ruben and the Jets” above any other Zappa album as I drag out the proof again. My choice would be “Uncle Meat” wonder what other followers would go for?

    March 4, 2019
    • Chris Michie #

      Thanks, Mick, for that link. I’m sure Richard doesn’t want to see this blog degenerate into a rate-every-Zappa-album forum. But I’d recommend the following for those who are curious:

      Hot Rats (an obvious choice), and if you like that, try all three guitar instrumental albums (triple-, double-, and single-CD volumes);
      One Size Fits All — great recording, brilliant playing, excellent material, something for everyone;.
      The Grand Wazoo — storming big band arrangements, mostly instrumental;
      Overnite Sensation/Apostrophe — two consecutive albums with one of his best bands, superbly recorded;
      The Perfect Stranger/Orchestral Favorites — two collections of his “classical” music. Also The Yellow Shark.

      There are, unfortunately, many Zappa albums that even fans find pretty unappealing — I won’t list my dislikes — but the more you listen, the more interesting and engaging the experience becomes. I’ve spent time with the entire catalog, plus official bootlegs and posthumous releases, and I don’t regret any of it.

      March 15, 2019
  6. Alan Codd #

    nice bit of info obscurity fantasy good reading

    March 4, 2019
  7. Paul Crowe #

    Sure sounds like an album I have to buy. Thanks, Richard.

    March 5, 2019

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