NOTES FOR THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS' NOW!
Brothers were a popular live act on the gospel, folk, and eventually
rock'n'roll circuits for more than a decade before their 1968 Columbia
hit single "Time Has Come Today," a relatively small portion of the
record-buying public even knew they existed before that breakthrough.
And even among the music fans who knew who they were, it was far from
universally known that a number of Chambers Brothers records had
already been issued, not only on Columbia, but also on the smaller
Vault label. In fact, no less than four LPs of Chambers Brothers
material appeared on Vault in the 1960s, the second of them being the
one contained on this CD, Now!
the path of the Chambers Brothers' flight on record up to the point Now! was released isn't easy, but
it's known that they did one gospel single, "I Trust in God"/"Just a
Little More Faith," for the Proverb label. Otherwise, it seems they did
little if any recording in the decade or so after they moved from
Mississippi to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s. Instead, they built up
their reputation as a live act, first on the gospel circuit, and then
crossing over to more pop-minded audiences, often playing folk clubs.
The Ash Grove in Los Angeles, one of the most popular folk venues of
the era, was a particular stronghold. It was while working there as an
opening act that they first met singer Barbara Dane, who'd been
performing folk, jazz, and blues since the 1940s.
A longtime politically left-wing performer and
champion for racial equality, Dane had no reservations about
working with an African-American group, and invited them to accompany
her onstage on several occasions. She also helped further their career,
as Willie Chambers remembered in a May 1994 Goldmine article, by taking the
group "to New York out of her own pocket. She wanted us to get
exposure, so she took us, on her own, to New York. She figured, 'If
people see you, I know they're gonna want to hire you. You're gonna get
work, and you'll be on your own.' She was absolutely right. We got
there and we got jobs."
The Chambers Brothers' first recording, that one-off
gospel 45 excepted, was probably backing her on a Folkways session in
New York. This must have been in 1964 or 1965; while Dane gives a 1965
date in her liner notes to the CD reissue (on DBK Works) of the album
that resulted (Barbara Dane and the
Chambers Brothers), Joe Chambers said in the Goldmine piece that
he thought it was done on the way to their first appearance at the
Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Further confusing the dating process, in
the CD reissue liner notes of Barbara
Dane and the Chambers Brothers, Dane remembers that the first
attempt to record the album failed when the Chambers Brothers "showed
up too hoarse to talk. They had been up for three nights in Hollywood
cutting their first single as a rock band"—implying that the recording
might have taken place in 1965 after all.
Regardless of the date and circumstances, Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers
did capture something of the transition of the band from gospel to
electric soul and rock, featuring as it did an electric guitar and
harmonica. It was still a long way from rock (or even folk-rock),
however, as there were no drums (though Dane's son, Jesse Cahn, joined
them on the road as their first drummer shortly after the session).
Too, the material was slanted toward folk music both contemporary
(including covers of Malvina Reynolds's "It Isn't Nice" and Richard
Fariña's "Pack Up Your Sorrows," written by Fariña with
Joan Baez's older sister Pauline Marden) and traditional, also
including some songs geared toward the struggle for civil rights in
which so much of the folk community was involved in the
The LP wasn't released, however, until 1966, by
which time the Chambers Brothers already had one LP out on Vault
Records, People Get Ready for the
Fabulous Chambers Brothers (also reissued on CD by Collectors'
Choice Music). Confusing the timeline even more, it seems like the
Chambers Brothers did some more recording for Folkways, either before
or after they hooked up with the Vault label. For in 1968—by which time
Columbia had already released some Chambers Brothers product as
well—Folkways issued an album of the Chambers Brothers on their own, Groovin' Time. The sound of the
recording—which this time featured a full electric band, including
drums—indicates that it was done around the time the group was moving
from gospel-folk into soul-rock in the mid-1960s, as they were doing
when they made their first Vault LP. It even included a couple songs
that would show up on People Get
Ready for the Fabulous Chambers Brothers (the traditional song
"Hooka Tooka" and Jimmy Reed's "Yes, Yes, Yes") and two that appear on
Now! (Reed's "You Don't Have to Go" and Joseph Chambers's "It's
Groovin' Time"), though the Folkways versions are studio recordings,
and not the live performances used on the Vault LPs.
The upshot was that as the Chambers Brothers were
becoming more popular on Columbia Records, other labels for which they
had recorded were finding enough demand for their music to justify
issuing some of the pre-Columbia tracks that hadn't been immediately
issued when they were first cut. Such was the case with Now! Like People Get Ready for the Fabulous Chambers
Brothers, it consisted wholly of live material—recorded,
according to the original liner notes, at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles
and the Unicorn in Boston—and almost entirely of R&B/soul covers.
In fact, by the mid-1960s, it sounded almost like an oldies show, with
versions of Ray Charles's "What'd I Say" (running nearly eight
minutes), Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally," Larry Williams's "Bony
Maronie," the Fiestas' "So Fine," and Chuck Willis's "C.C. Rider."
There was also Tommy Tucker's relatively recent
(1964) hit "High Heel Sneakers," and Jimmy Reed's aforementioned "You
Don't Have to Go," here taken at a faster gait than the Folkways
version. Oddly, the original label of the Now! LP credits one C. Perry as the
composer of "It's Groovin' Time," though Joe Chambers is currently
listed as the songwriter in the BMI database. And while the same label
credits "Baby Please Don't Go" to "Williams"—presumably bluesman Big
Joe Williams, author of a classic blues tune by that name—the track is
obviously based on James Brown's first big hit, "Please, Please,
The public probably thought there was little left in
the archives after Vault and Folkways had issued several albums of
pre-Columbia recordings. Vault, however, had enough left for not just
one, but two more Chambers Brothers LPs, Shout! and Feelin' the Blues, both also
reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. -- Richie Unterberger
unless otherwise specified.
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