Thee Midniters – Complete: Songs of Love, Rhythm and Psychedelia
Thee Midniters – Complete: Songs of Love, Rhythm and Psychedelia (Micro Werks)
Thee Midniters were hands-down the cream of the rock `n’ soul scene that sprouted in mid-60s East Los Angeles. Contemporaries like the Premiers and Cannibal & The Headhunters each made indelible marks, but the Midniters’ talent filled four full albums, numerous non-LP singles and ranged across a unique mix of `50s doo-wop and R&B, `60s rock, soul and jazz. Their chart success was minor (a 1965 version of “Land of a Thousand Dances” that was covered by the Headhunters and then completely overshadowed by Wilson Pickett), but their originals and covers resound to this day with the unfettered release of a Saturday night rave-up and the slow heat of the night’s last dance.
The band’s guitar, organ and horns sat atop propulsive bass lines and potent back beats, and moved easily from the soulful croon of Jerry Butler’s “Giving Up on Love” to a wicked, organ- and guitar-led cover Barrett Strong’s “Money.” The ballads are warm and comforting, and the up-tempo tunes are scorching. The band’s debut album Whittier Blvd., originally released in 1965, is constructed from a dozen covers, the title track being a hotted-up reworking of the Stones “2120 South Michigan Avenue.” The song list is drafted from then-popular regional and national hits by Marvin Gaye, Lenny Welch, Chris Kenner, and Roddie Joy, and spiked with a pair of rock `n’ roll classics from Larry Williams (“Slow Down”) and Chuck Berry (“Johnny B. Goode”). Bonus tracks included with the first album are highlighted by a playful cover of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” and a shriek-lined live version of “Land of a Thousand Dances.”
The Midniters’ second album, Bring You Love Special Delivery, was released in 1966 and though it continued the rock `n’ soul sounds of their debut, it added a psychedelic vibe and included four originals, including the rhythm-heavy rock `n’ soul title track. Jimmy Espinosa’s running bass lines and Danny LaMont’s snare grab you by the lapels as the horn section slaps you in the face; if you ever wondered what influenced Jeff Conolly’s (of The Lyres) organ style, check out Ronny Figueroa’s playing. The covers are drawn once again from popular songs of the day by Martha & The Vandellas, the Righteous Brothers, the Young Rascals, Percy Sledge and Deon Jackson. Thee Midniters really proved themselves the epitome of a great covers band, able to evoke the essence of a hit single while stamping the performance with their own unique sound.
The breadth of the band’s influences is readily heard in the contrast between their down-and-dirty cover of Them’s British Invasion classic “Gloria” and a relatively straight take on Frank Sinatra’s then-current easy listening hit “Strangers in the Night.” The band’s originals include the tough rocker “I Found a Peanut” and the soul ballad “Are You Angry.” Bonus tracks expanding the second album include a smoldering cover of Baby Washington’s “It’ll Never Be Over For Me,” a stomping take on Richard Lewis’ “Hey Little Girl” and the searing garage rock instrumental original “Thee Midnight Feeling.”
The group’s third album, Unlimited, was released in 1967 and opens with a rough, Stones-y cover of Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” The horns that start “Cheatin’ Woman” suggest a moment of soothing soul, but vocalist Little Willie G is in no mood to forgive and forget as he croons his goodbye to an unfaithful mate. Originals finally dominate the song list with a variety of torchy ballads, garage rockers, easy swinging soul, and summery pop. The instrumental “Chile Con Soul” finds the band branching into jazz, and “Welcome Home Darling” is a fine upbeat blues-rocker. The set list winds down for a cover of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” and heats back up for Mitch Ryder’s medley of “Devil With a Blue Dress” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” Eight bonus tracks include the wild mariachi-rock “The Big Ranch,” a superb mid-tempo soul original, “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry,” plenty of heavy, psych-tinged blues, and both the English and Spanish sides of the honorific, “The Ballad of Cesar Chavez.”
By 1969 vocalist Little Willie G had departed, and the group’s fourth and final album, Giants, falls back on some familiar cuts (“Whittier Blvd,” “Land of a Thousand Dances” and “Love Special Delivery”) and sticks almost entirely to covers, many of which are themselves repeats. The album sounds more like the group’s debut than the progression of Unlimited. Highlights include a jazzy, five-minute instrumental arrangement of “Walk on By,” a moving take on Oscar Brown’s “Brother Where Are You,” and a stereo mix of “That’s All.” Three bonus tracks include the celebratory chant “Chicano Power,” a thick concoction of Gamble & Huff’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” and a Latinized arrangement of Hubert Laws’ “Cinderella.” By this point you could hear the Midniters laying into the same roots that Carlos Santana was exploring, and which would be more fully fleshed out by War, EW&F, AWB and others in the early 1970s. The band played with more restraint in 1969 than 1966, but also with more polish and sophistication.
These CDs were mastered from vinyl records, and there are a few sound problems, including small skips, transitory distortion, and varying fidelity. The audio artifacts aren’t persistent and do not greatly diminish the pleasure of having these tracks available on CD; still, it’s a shame Micro Werks didn’t search more deeply for better vinyl sources. Each CD is screened with the green, white and pink label of Whittier Records and packaged in a three-panel cardboard slip-case that reproduces the front and back album cover. The four discs are housed in a box that includes a fold-out poster with liner notes by Richie Unterberger. Discs 1-3 are mono, disc 4 mixes mono and stereo.