‘Dancin’ With You, Baby. . .’

It was one of those “Huh! I never knew that!” moments. I was sorting and tagging mp3s the other day as the CD player over my left shoulder ran through the two-disc set Night Train to Nashville, subtitled “Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945-1970.” Deep into the second disc of the set borrowed from the local library, I’d already heard a lot of stuff I wish I’d heard long ago, much of it on the Excello label.

A new track began: a thrumming bass with two measures of eighth notes solo, then percussion on the backbeat for two more measures. And then: “Doooo, do-do doo. Do-do-do! Do-do-do! Do-do-do.” I jerked my head around, stared at the CD player as the verse began: “Dancin’ with you, baby, really turns the soulshake on. Yeah, groovin’ with you, baby, really turns the soulshake on.”

Knowing the song as “Soul Shake” but never having heard this version, I reached for the booklet. The track was by Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson, recorded in Nashville in 1969 and released early that year on SSS International.

The record did pretty well, reaching No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 and going to No. 13 on the R&B chart. The oddly twangy instrument is an electric sitar, played – the booklet notes – by Jerry Kennedy. Others at the session included Pete Drake, Charlie McCoy, Wayne Moss and Kenny Buttrey. (Four of those names – all except Drake’s – I recognized as having played on, among other things, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde; Drake’s I recognized from Dylan’s John Wesley Harding as well as other projects. A look at the credits of any of those gentlemen at All-Music Guide is instructive.)

But the names of Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson were not nearly as familiar. The duo, it turns out, met while recording in the mid-1960s at the Grits ’n’ Gravy studio owned by Huey Meaux in Jackson, Mississippi. (Meaux, a seemingly unavoidable figure in the history of R&B, popped up in this blog a few months back; a bit of his unsavory legacy was recounted in the comments at that time. If you need more, Google for it, but beware: Meaux was a nasty piece of work.) Scott and Benson signed with the SSS International label in 1968 and, into 1969, got four records into the Hot 100 and the R&B Top 40: “Lover’s Holiday” (No. 37 pop and No. 8 R&B), “Pickin’ Wild Mountain Blueberries” (No. 27 & No. 8), “Soulshake” (No. 37 and No. 13) and “I Want To Love You Baby” (No. 81 and No. 24).

(In addition, Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles lists two hits for Scott alone: “Every Little Bit Hurts” bubbled under at No. 126 in the spring of 1969, and “Bill,” credited to Peggy Scott-Adams, went to No. 87 in 1997.)

All that was interesting, and I may dig into the music of Scott and Benson, but what grabbed me – as regular readers might guess – was the song recorded by Scott and Benson as “Soulshake.” The first version I’d ever heard of the song was the 1970 cover by Delaney & Bonnie, who listed the tune as “Soul Shake” on their album To Bonnie From Delaney (an album I wrote about in early 2007; that post is here).

I’ve mentioned D&B’s version of “Soul Shake” three times here: I shared it once in a Baker’s Dozen in 2008, and later that year, I included it in a post remembering Delaney Bramlett. I also praised it when it popped up during a random search for a Saturday Single in early 2010, so my regard for the track is pretty well cataloged.

(It might be good to note the personnel on Delaney & Bonnie’s version of the tune: Listed as being involved with the album’s sessions at Miami’s Criterion were Charlie Freeman on lead guitar, Duane Allman on slide guitar, Jim Dickinson on piano, Bobby Whitlock on organ and vocals, Tom McClure and Jerry Scheff on bass, Ron Tutt and Sammy Creason on drums, Sam Clayton on congas, Alan Estes on percussion, and Andrew Love, Ed Logan, Floyd Newman, Wayne Jackson and Jack Hale of the Memphis Horns on horns.)

Having come across the original version of the song and having connected it with the D&B cover, I then went hunting for other covers. I found a few. The Angela Strehli Blues Band made the song the title track of a 1987 album; Bruce Willis included “Soul Shake” on his 1989 Motown album, If It Don’t Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger; and blues singer Kate Meehan included it on her 2002 album, Soulshaker. I also saw a listing for a live version by the Guild. I suppose there might be a few more out there, but that’s what I saw this morning.

I know nothing about Meehan or the Guild, and listening to the samples, I’m not inclined to dig further. Willis’ version is disposable, despite the generally good review that AMG gave the album, which was the actor’s second. As for Strehli’s cover, although I like several things I’ve heard from her, her cover of “Soul Shake” isn’t one of them. Despite its tempo, the track had an almost mechanical quality about it.

Which leaves the Delaney & Bonnie version as my favorite version of the tune. And I did some checking: Despite my regard for the Bramletts and the famous and talented friends they gathered around themselves, I failed to include even one track by D&B in my 2010 Ultimate Jukebox project. I should have included at least one track and perhaps more.

I wrote a while back about my solitary dancing in the kitchen, and I’ve noticed since then that no song that I currently have on my mp3 player makes me want to move more than does Delaney & Bonnie’s “Soul Shake,” so – without going back through the D&B catalog – I’m going to put “Soul Shake” into the category of Jukebox Regrets. It should have been there.

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