Category Archives: Rhythm and Blues

Aretha Franklin Respect

Aretha Franklin Respect

Billboard #1 June 3 – June 30, 1967
Aretha Franklin Respect

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

Those of you who have visited the Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts know that the Main Gallery is not a Woodstock museum–as in a museum that recalls the “greatest festival of all time.”

The Main Gallery sets up that momentous 1969 event by walking visitors through the turbulent 60s: the civil rights movement, the space race, technological innovations, the Vietnam War, Beatlemania, the counterculture, assassinations, fashion, politics, the change in family, nationalism, and the many other of that era’s hallmarks.

As guests get about halfway through, album covers appear. Of course until then the little records with big holes dominated sales. By the end of the decade, the big records with the little holes began to outsell singles.

Aretha Franklin Respect
I Never Loved A Man the Way That I Love You

Among the first half-dozen albums are displayed is Aretha Franklin’s  breakthrough Atlantic Records debut album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.  It is the featured image atop this entryThe single by the same name was a hit for Franklin and Atlantic Records selected “Respect” (can anyone write that title thinking of the song without mentally singing the letters like Aretha?) as her next single.

Aretha Franklin’s career never looked back after that.

Aretha Franklin Respect

Otis Redding

Otis Redding had written the song and released it as a single in the summer of 1965. The song did well commercially and helped establish his presence on the white side of the radio waves.

He continued to sing his version of the song and included it in his amazing performance at the Monterey International Jazz and Pop Festival in 1967. It was during his introduction (listen above) that he says, “that a girl took away from me, a friend of mine, this girl she just took this song.

Aretha Franklin Respect

Muscle Shoals

Columbia Records had recognized Aretha Franklin’s potential, but had not been able to translate it.  Ahmet Ertegun and his Atlantic Records found a way. He brought her to  Muscle Shoals, Alabama and Rick Hall’s FAME Studios.

Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin produced the record and Tom Dowd engineered it. The musicians were the famed Cornell Dupree (guitar), Willie Bridges (sax), Charles Chalmers (sax), Roger Hawkins (drummer),Tommy Cogbill (bass), Dewey ‘Spooner’ Oldham (keyboards), and King Curtis (sax). Franklin’s sisters Carolyn and Erma were the backing vocals.

That group lighted the fuse that launched Franklin. The song went from Redding’s covert plea for sex when he got home to Franklin’s proclamation of freedom, demand for R E S P E C T.

Aretha Franklin Respect

Anthem

Not only did the song establish Franklin as a star, it became an anthem of the times for civil rights and women’s liberation. As an NPR story said, ” ‘Respect’ Wasn’t A Feminist Anthem Until Aretha Franklin Made It One.”

That is why that album cover display is so appropriate for the Main Gallery.

Thank you Aretha.

Aretha Franklin Respect

Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog

Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog

Big Mama Thornton

December 11, 1926 – July 25, 1984
…and Sam Phillips’ answer to it
Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog
the label of the 78 rpm “Hound Dog”

Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton was 26 when Peacock Records released Hound Dog in March 1953.  Written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952, it spent seven weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B charts and sold almost two million copies. Big Mama saw very little of that money.

Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog
78 rpm of Rufus Thomas’s Bear Cat

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Sam Phillips, the young record maker and founder of Sun Records in Memphis, flattered Hound Dog by writing “Bear Cat.” He knew Rufus Thomas and decided he’d be the ideal person to sing the song.

Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog
Rufus Thomas as a DJ at WDIA in Memphis

Click below to hear “Bear Cat”:

Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog

Bear Cat

Though Rufus Thomas wasn’t familiar with the term, where Phillips grew up in Alabama, a bear cat was “the meanest goddamn woman in the world.

Thomas and Phillips knew they had not come close to the superior “Hound Dog” but were satisfied with the results and released it on March 22,  just a few weeks after the release of “Hound Dog.” Even the full title told you what you could obviously hear: “‘Bear Cat’ (The Answer to Hound Dog)”

“Bear Cat” was an immediate hit. The first in Sun Records young but turbulent history.

Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog

Answer songs

“Answer songs” were very popular and Sam Phillips innocently didn’t realize he had struck a hornet nest of problems by releasing the song without permission from Lion Musical Publishing Company which held the rights to “Hound Dog.”

Sam Phillips ended up writing a check to Lion and gave up all claims to the publishing.

 “Bear Cat” eventually reached #3 on the R & B charts and did not leave the charts until June.

Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog

Hound Dog

Of course, three years later a young white singer named Elvis and his cover of “Hound Dog” would forever displace Thornton’s version.

Ironically, Big Mama would write (in 1961) and release (in 1968) a song (“Ball and Chain”) that would be taken by another young singer.

I highly recommended book about early rock and roll and Sam Phillips: Sam Phillips, the Man Who Invented Rock and Roll by Peter Guralnick.  

The subtitle of the song is “How One Man Discovered Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley, and How His Tiny Label, Sun Records of Memphis, Revolutionized the World.”

Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog