Review of ‘This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African American Gospel on 45 rpm’
This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African American Gospel on 45rpm 1957-1982
By Grant Britt
The tunes aren’t familiar and neither are the artists. But that doesn’t stop Tompkins Square’s collection of raw African American gospel from being one of the best ever compiled. The fact that they’re 45 rpm recordings makes it even more compelling. For those not around for the vinyl era, 45’s were 7 inch vinyl discs that bands from the 50s- 60s broke out their singles on , three minute tunes that were the lifeblood of AM radio. The sound has never been equaled. The grooves in a vinyl record mirrored the original sound’s waveform, which meant that no information was lost, reproducing the sound exactly as it was played with no distortion. Those records seemed to jump out of the speakers at you, making you feel like you were in the room with the artist.
What comes across here is rocking sanctified soul. In the mid-‘50s and early ‘60s, gospel artists started crossing over into the secular market, keeping the same styles and melodies but switching the focus from the love of Jesus to the love of a woman. The call and response pattern in Jubilee gospel with a leather- lunged lead singer flinging phrases at a backup chorus who slung ‘em right back, blistering hot and sanctified, worked as well in rock. Ironically, those who stayed in gospel began to borrow from rock, amplifying their message with snaky guitar leads and some of the vocal histrionics r&b singers had adapted from them.
You might recognize three or four of the 72 tunes included on three CD set. The most well known version of “Jesus on the Mainline” was done by Ry Cooder in ’74 on his Paradise and Lunch album.The Whirlwinds’ version here is a funky bass line backed , organ pumped up hell raiser worthy of Wilson Pickett’s early work with the Falcons before he crossed over in ‘62 with “I Found A Love.”
“This Little Light of Mine” has been covered by a slew of artists including Sam Cook, Son House, Brenda Lee & Charlie Daniels (in ’07,) and Joss Stone. But The Fantastic Voices of Joy turn in a bible thumping floor pounder with what sounds like an electric banjo on jangly lead.
“I’ll Fly Away” probably has the most diverse coverage, with both Andy Griffin and Kanye West (on ‘o4’s The College Dropout) turning in versions along with Johnny Cash and the Dirty Dozen. What you get here courtesy of the Traveling Allstars sounds like Eric Burdon and the Animals if they suddenly got religion and were still wrestling with the concept.
The Gospel Keys “I Never Heard A Man” recalls Willie Neal Johnson and the Gospel Keynotes, with a raspy leader getting his lead lines hurled back by a falsetto chorus member rising above his fellow backups. “Jesus Will Fix It,” from the Pleasant Grove Community Chorus of Sauls, sounds as laid-back as its name implies, country folks letting loose on Sunday about the mending powers of Jesus’ love. “Put Your Hand” was covered pretty thoroughly by both Loretta Lynn and Elvis, but R. Jenkins and the Daytona Harmonizers put a unique spin on it, featuring a psychedelic guitar lead wah-wah-ing through, sounding like it was coming from a Haight-Asbury church in San Francisco’s 1967 summer of love.
For smooth gospel, it’s hard to beat the Dedicators’ “So Many Fallen ByThe Wayside.” “I Believe I’ll go Back Home,” from Big Dan and the Gospel Heavyweights, sounds like the melody to Little Milton’s “We’re Gonna Make It,” with a skip in it and Big Dan’s basement baritone laid on top. “God Don’t Take No Vacation” from the Chicago based Bro Smith + His Stars of Harmony sounds like the Raelettes backing a very hoarse bro Smith, buoyed by a bass player from P-funk.
All these treasures are culled from the 45‘s of collector Mike McGonigal, who also compiled Tompkins Square’s Fire In My Bones in ’09. This collection rocks harder and holds up better on repeated listenings.
No matter what your destination, it’s perfect traveling music. Put this one on, shut up and drive- the Lord’s with you, rocking you all the way.