Hope is a remarkable thing.
Consider how the label boss(es) at Lake Charles, Louisiana’s ANLA Records must have felt in 1971, when they heard the tape of a new track, “Gonna Put My Foot Down,” cut by regional musician Bill Parker.
Record labels, large and small, then and now, don’t put out records out of the goodness of their hearts. They don’t spend the money to put out a song unless they perceive some sort of commercial potential.
So, presumably the guy in charge of ANLA sat there listening to “Gonna Put My Foot Down” and thinking to himself, “This is dynamite! Soulful! Cajun jukebox TNT! Start the presses.”
I have listened to “Gonna Put My Foot Down” repeatedly over the past few days — it is included on Southern Funkin’, a CD collection of obscure regional Louisiana soul and funk tracks from the 1960s and ’70s.
I wish I could have what the ANLA guy was having when he heard it:
Parker sings like he’s trying to freestyle the lyrics after a handful of quaaludes, and his thoughts are so soggy and enmucked that he can’t drag out more than three syllables at a time.
Or perhaps he is simultaneously translating the lyrics from Esperanto as he is singing them, and some of the lines get a little lost in the journey.
According to the liner notes, Parker was a drummer on the Louisiana musical scene for many years. Perhaps he is handling the beat and the mic simultaneously on this recording … in which case, suffice it to say he ain’t Levon Helm.
I’ve been weirdly obsessed with this song for a couple days now. Not just Parker’s lyric, but the chugging monochordal backing track and the rasty, cheap-fuzztoned sub-Funkadelic guitar leads.
It’s not as minimalist as, say, a guy with an acoustic guitar. But it’s just about as primitive and minimal as a full-band record can be. One chord, one drumbeat, a handful of words and a two-note vocal melody.
This record has pretty much the absolute fewest elements you can possibly have in order to sit a bunch of guys down in a studio and say, “We’re making a record.”
And, y’know, maybe that’s why I like it. You could say very much the same thing about “Surfin’ Bird,” and that’s one of my five favorite rock n’ roll records of all time anywhere anyplace.
“Gonna Put My Foot Down” isn’t quite as nonsensical as “Surfin’ Bird,” which is a strike against it, but it still taps into that nerve of having no melody, no chords, no words, but still having something to express.
The liner notes to Southern Funkin’ helpfully mention that Bill Parker (born William Guidry — and it’s too bad a guy who never sold a record outside Louisiana couldn’t just go by his real name) also cut a Fifties regional classic called “Sweet Potato Mash.”
YouTube comes to the rescue again — and to my delight, “Sweet Potato Mash” is an absolutely wonderful dance-craze record, even if it sounds like the guitar player and the bassist haven’t really agreed what key they’re in.
This should have been a bigger hit:
For that matter, there’s also “Sweet Potato Cha Cha.” Bill Parker: sweet potato :: James Brown : popcorn.