Mel Brown Greases the Grease
Mel Brown passed away just as this edition of Sonic Reducer was posted. R.I.P. to a class act.
If you’ve ever wondered what greasy blues funk sounded like in downtown L.A . in ’68 or ’70, you’re in luck; Mel Brown is here to show and tell you with Eighteen Pounds of Unclean Chitlins, subtitled And Other Greasy Blues Specialties. Needless to say this is a vintage vinyl release we’re waxing about here. It has, amongst it’s many analog and old-school virtues, one of the best two sided covers ever; a platter of very greasy chitlins and sides on the front, the same plate ploughed thru on the back, capped with a cigarette butt in the middle.
Guitar player Mel Brown has had a long career and is still putting out records, playing blues festivals, etc. Eighteen Pounds…, released in 1973, collects eight previously released tracks of high-grade, vintage funk blues that lives and breathes the murky air of Los Angeles. Everything you need to know about the grooves is right there on the cover and in the songtitles; subtle it’s not, greasy it is.
“Chunk A Funk” is the first song, and if it sounds like they’re telescoping here, directing you in a greasy direction, well, right on brother. Both “Chunk A Funk” and “W-2 Withholding” feature the great Clifford Solomon on tenor sax and the twin caveats “unidentified organ, bass and drums. Recorded in Los Angeles, probably early 1968.” How unassailably cool is that? To be so out-there that you don’t know the when or the who?
Subtly is not Mel Brown’s favorite mode, at least not back in these days. As a guitar player he leads and punches hard, alternating between super juiced, frantic bursts of rocked-up blues neck wrangling, and, occasionally, more laid-back, groove-y runs. As a band-leader he knows when to back off and let’s the rest of the crew stir the pot, although he’s typically in the middle of things. The two lead off tracks on side 2, “Time For A Change” and “Good Stuff,” are brassy funk jazz, with pumping horns and Jimmy Davis’ or Cliff Coulter’s funky organ and piano pushing the groove. I love the way you can just feel the grease and exhaust and dirt of the mean streets of Los Angeles working it’s way into the grooves of the record. There’s something definitive here, a captured feel of time and place, with Watts burning in the background, and Woodstock just over the horizon, and these guys just want to party. Think these boys partied hard? I’d bet on it. The whole thing is loosey-goosey even when it’s tight, definitely Out There even when it’s actually In There.
The centerpiece is the title track and has be heard to be believed. “Eighteen Pounds of Unclean Chitlins” is an extended psychedelic mind-fuck, 12 minutes of warped and tweaked guitar, minimal drums and Cliff Coulter’s wheezing, junked-out organ. The effects (other than a wah wah pedal and generous use of an echoplex) seem to be either Brown or an engineer manipulating the volume on his guitar, creating playful, super-low-tech psych-blues dub. I found myself wondering…honestly, sorry, what can I say…what kind of drugs were they taking? Just booze and cigarettes and coffee and greasy food? You think? “I’d Rather Suck My Thumb” is almost as good, and has such a great title that it could be Brown delivering pizzas and still be a classic. Jazz cat Herb Ellis shows up for the final track, “Home James.”
FYI, Mel Brown’s slippery first record, Chicken Fat, has been reissued on vinyl by Euphoria. And, needless to say, both the title and songs are suitably greasy.