You just couldn’t get past these four recordings in the late sixties/early seventies: “Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, Marvin Gaye’s epic “What’s Going On”, and the Temptations' “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” These were extended play songs that begged time getting the message out and the music? It totally hypnotized the listener.
That's Bill King spinning the intro to the liner notes for his latest recording with The Rhythm Express.
Continuing, the erudite ivories tinkler writes:
You could be driving through America’s heartland, down a mountainside in the great Rockies or cruising a Baltimore neighborhood on a hot steamy summer night, and any one of those songs would have you mystically engaged and compel you pull the car to the curb, close your eyes and sing along. The words are poetic and meaning even deeper. The music – orchestrated like a new Beethoven arrived on the scene and had discovered the Wah-wah pedal, a funky place for Latin congas, four part harmony, rhythms that rip and roar to every corner of the sound system; expanding the compositional and orchestral possibilities of funk and soul music.
This, the seventh single for the Rhythm Express, brings a contemporary edge to the classic, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”
The '60s and '70s keep reminding us of the hard lessons of the past and continue to haunt. Today’s streets are meaner and daily events — even more present. There’s the ever-present cell phone capable of catching incidents of racial violence — and those often denied flare-ups between armed police and civilians — domestic violence and the daily grind of life.
“Papa” is the story of the absent father. Lead singer Dennis Edwards was upset with the first verse of the song: “It was the third of September/the day I’ll always remember/’cause that was the day/that my daddy died.” Edwards' father had died on that date, not in September but October. Producer and writer Norman Whitfield forced Edwards to the brink, demanding he sing and re-sing until he got that passion and pain into the track.
In the original, Melvin “Wah-Wah Watson” Ragin gave the track that distinctive rhythmic sound. The Rhythm Express decided to update and find a 2015 edge through Shane Forrest’s bump guitar parts. Shane opens with a slicing blues lick that leads into a Keith Richards-like rhythm pattern then a double down nasty low string grind through the chorus. Everton “Pablo” Paul splits time between hard core Memphis groove and ska.
Singers' Michael Dunston, Selena Evangeline and Ammoye take the song to church — that once secure place where women traded stories about the past week — the laughter, the hardship — that missing man and children who need attention and three daily meals. As the track fades, Ammoye and Michael improvise — conversing through the soft talk of Ammoye and the testimonial calls of Michael.
Produced and arranged: Bill King (keyboards)
Engineer: Shane “Shaky J” Forrest (guitar)
Drums: Everton “Pablo”Paul (Side Door Records)
Bass: Jesse “Dubmatix” King
Horns: Christopher Butcher – trombone – Bobby Hsu – alto sax
Percussion: Jorge Luis Torres
Singers: Michael Dunston, Selena Evangeline, Ammoye
Norman Whitfield / Barrett Strong ( Published by © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)