AUK Chain Gang: The Country Soul Revue “Sapelo”

Larry Jon Wilson at The 12 Bar Club, London on 15th July 2008.

It’s a privilege and a pleasure to follow Andrew Raw’s excellent choice of the superb Clarence Carter and his fine version of the song ‘Slip Away’. I’ve long been a fan of country soul and it’s a branch of americana that often seems to be overlooked in our articles; nice to see it getting a little love. My knee-jerk reaction was to follow it with another classic piece of country soul and go for the Flying Burrito Brothers’ version of the great Dan Penn and Chips Moman song, ‘Dark End of the Street’, which also deals with infidelity and clandestine meetings. Then I thought, hang on, that’s a bit too obvious, and I started to think about how I might use another connection and take the chain in a slightly different direction. Thinking about Dan Penn leads to remembering a fine album from 2004, “Testifying”, by The Country Soul Revue.

This album collected together a whole host of artists associated with country soul – Dan Penn obviously, alongside friend and frequent musical collaborator Spooner Oldham, the Swamp Fox himself Tony Joe White, George Soule, Bonnie Bramlett, Donnie Fritts and a host of others. It’s a terrific album dripping with that southern soul sound. There are so many good tracks on the album, drawn from the participants’ own catalogues and backed by a band that includes Spooner Oldham on electric piano, Clayton Ivey on Hammond Organ, guitar from Nashville player Mike Durham and a horn section that includes co-founder of The Memphis Horns, Wayne Jackson. After long deliberation, I decided to go with this track from little known country singer, Larry Jon Wilson. A proud son of the state of Georgia, home of so much good country soul, this is his song to the popular retreat of Sapelo Island, one of the barrier islands of Georgia’s McIntosh County. It’s exactly the sort of place that Clarence Carter and his illicit lover might have slipped away to!

The island itself is only accessible by aircraft or boat and is rumoured to be the original site of San Miguel de Gualdape, the first European settlement in what is now the U.S.A. Visitors to the island must come as part of an organised tour or be guests of island residents. The main community on the island is Hog Hammock, where many of the inhabitants are African Americans, directly descended from the slaves brought from West Africa to work on the island plantations in the 18th & 19th centuries. They’re known as “Gullah Geeches”, an ethnic group living in the Lowcountry region of the southern states and they have a distinct and well-preserved culture.

Larry Jon Wilson released four solo albums in the ’70s, before retiring from the music business, but he returned to performing in the 80s. Thirty years after releasing his fourth studio album he released his fifth, when Sony BMG issued the “Larry Jon Wilson” album in 2008. He died just two years later, at the age of 69. This is as fine a slice of country soul as you could hope to hear. Testifying indeed.

About Rick Bayles 354 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!
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