R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax

VOICES Notes and news on R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax releases

Up Tight, All Right

10 DEC 09 DAVID NATHAN

The 1968 movie Up Tight! was an early blaxploitation film (predating both Shaft and Superfly) directed by Jules Dassin and with a cast that included Ruby Dee, Roscoe Lee Browne and Julian Mayfield. A remake of a 1935's The Informers set in a Cleveland ghetto in the aftermath of Martin Luther King's assassination, the film was not a runaway box office success but was distinguished by the excellent soundtrack Up Tight!, courtesy the Stax house-band Booker T. & The MGs.

The album boasted one major hit, the fast-moving "Time Is Tight," which actually became one of the group's biggest singles, reaching No. 6 on Billboard's Hot 100. The opening track, "Johnny, I Love You," featured Jones' plaintive vocal. The bluesy song is a moving and lyrically uncommon "brother-to-brother" opus.

Instrumental pieces such as "We've Got Johnny Wells," "Run Tank Run," the gospel-flavored "Down At Ralph's Joint" (sounding suspiciously like Nat King Cole's "Send For Me") and "Tank's Lament," which focused on Booker's primo skills as an organist, gave Jones and fellow MGs -- Donald "Duck" Dunn, Al Jackson Jr. and Steve Cropper -- the opportunity to showcase once again their stellar musicianship.

The other two vocal tracks on Up Tight! became longtime personal favorites of mine. Booker excelled on "Blues In The Gutter," with its broody moaning delivery, while his choice of Stax labelmate, former gospel singer Judy Clay to sing the spiritual "Children, Don't Get Weary" was pure genius. Clay's achingly emotive, distinctive style was a perfect fit for the track. Thanks to Clay and Jones, the soundtrack remains among my favorite albums of the era.