Posts Tagged ‘The Caledonia Soul Orchestra’

The Caledonia Soul Orchestra was the band created by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison in 1973. The band was named after an eighteen-minute instrumental outtake on the His Band and the Street Choir album. Actually, Morrison could have released two more albums in 1973, because I’ve already posted an album he did of country standards recorded from 1971 to 1973, After the success of ”Astral Weeks” and  “Moondance”, Van Morrison initially wanted his third album for Warner Bros, “His Band And The Street Choir”, to be a vocal album. “It was originally a concept to do an a cappella album. Street Choir was to be an a cappella group and I wanted these certain guys to form a group so I could cut a lot of a cappella with just maybe one guitar,” Morrison later told biographer Ritchie Yorke. “But it didn’t turn out; it all got weird.”

In the end, His Band And The Street Choir, released on 15th November 1970, contained plenty of sizzling brass sounds – with Morrison himself playing tenor saxophone on the tracks Crazy Face and Call Me Up in Dreamland – in an album full of funky, radio-friendly singles. Guitarist John Platania said that when they finally got down to recording the album at A&R Recording Studios, in New York City, in the spring and summer of 1970, Morrison “had designs on getting stuff played on radio”.

The album’s biggest hit single was the opening track, “Domino”, a potent mix of R&B and funk that is, in part, a tribute to Fats Domino. “Hey Mr DJ/I just want to hear some rhythm and blues music/On the radio” sings Morrison on a song that gained plenty of airplay, and which earned the Belfast-born musician a Top 10 hit in the US. The bass, drums and horns meld brilliantly on Domino and it quickly became a song Morrison would regularly perform live. On the single, he even starts one chorus by shouting words “Dig it!”

One of the key musicians on the album was drummer Dahaud Elias Shaar, who went on to become an essential member of Morrison’s Caledonia Soul Orchestra backing band. Shaar, who also sang backing vocals and played bass clarinet on  His Band And The Street Choir, remembered “a positive vibe around that whole record”.

Few songs in Morrison’s career are as upbeat as Virgo Clowns, with its encouragement to “let your laughter fill the room”. The song was inspired by the memory of Morrison playing with his young daughter Shana. “We’ve become so serious, we get too heavy about what everything means,” Morrison told Melody Maker. “I was sitting one day feeling very heavy, and my daughter came up to me and started cracking up. And then I started cracking up when I realised it. I’m sitting here thinking that it’s all too serious and it’s not.”

Though “Give Me A Kiss” was a rather formulaic love song, the inventive “I’ll Be Your Lover Too” was sung with soulful intensity. You can hear Morrison ask “How’s that?” at the end of the tender love song. Crazy Face is about a man who pulls out a gun and announces, “I got it from Jesse James” – an appropriate song for Morrison, given that he had recently been nicknamed The Belfast Cowboy by The Band’s Robbie Robertson.

The splendidly infectious rocker I’ve Been Working was an out-take from Moondance, while Morrison sings some splendid falsetto on Gypsy Queen. When Jon Landau reviewed the album for Rolling Stone in February 1971 he was particularly impressed by “the powerful “Call Me Up in Dreamland”, which he described as “the singalong of the year”.

Landau also hailed the closing track, Street Choir, as one of the singer’s “two or three finest songs”. The plaintive chorus (“Why did you leave America?/Why did you let me down?”) was sung by The Street Choir, who comprised Shaar, Andy Robinson, Larry Goldsmith, Ellen Schroer (wife of the album’s saxophonist, Jack Schroer), Martha Velez (wife of trumpeter Keith Johnson) and Morrison’s then wife, Janet Planet.

Planet, who divorced Morrison a couple of years later, was living in Woodstock with the singer at the time the album was made, and she is the subject of the love song Sweet Jannie. Planet designed the His Band And The Street Choir album cover and wrote the original sleeve notes, on which she gushed: “This is the album that you must sing with, dance to, you must find a place for the songs somewhere in your life. They belong to you now, dear listener, especially for you.”

Morrison has sometimes expressed dissatisfaction over an album that he said he “cranked out”, but His Band And The Street Choir retains a real charm and features several Morrison classics, especially Domino and I’ve Been Working. One of the overlooked gems is the religious If I Ever Needed Someone, which features a stunning trio of backing singers. Morrison specially hired gospel stars Judy Clay and Jackie Verdell along with Emily “Cissy” Houston – the mother of Whitney Houston who, in her own right, won Grammys as a solo artist after having worked with Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin – and they provided superb support for his heartfelt singing.

As for this album, the highlight has to be song from the session which was excluded on the album is this wonderful track “Caledonia Soul Music.” It’s seventeen minutes long and mostly instrumental. 

Following last year’s releases of The Essential Van Morrison and The Complete Them 1964-1967, Legacy Recordings continues to mine the Van Morrison back catalogue with the June 10th releases of the remastered 2-CD or 2-LP It’s Too Late to Stop Now and the 3-CD/1-DVD box set It’s Too Late to Stop Now…Volumes II, III, IV & DVD.

It’s Too Late to Stop Now, of course, is Van Morrison’s 1974 double live album with his Caledonia Soul Orchestra, capturing concert recordings from his May to July 1973 tour at Los Angeles’ famed Troubadour, the Santa Monica Civic Center, and London’s Rainbow Theatre.  The remastered original album will be available on both CD and vinyl, while the CDs of Volumes II-IV collect previously unreleased concert recordings from those three venues.  The DVD included in the 3-CD set contains professionally-shot footage from the Rainbow Theatre stand which originally aired on the BBC in the U.K. but has never before been commercially available.

The original It’s Too Late was compiled by Morrison and co-producer Ted Templeman from eight sets of live performances and was famously free of any subsequent studio overdubs.  Volumes II-IV returns to those original performances, first captured on two-inch 16-track analog tapes, as newly remastered by Guy Massey.  None of the tracks on this set are duplicated from the performances on the original album.

“I am getting more into performing,” Morrison commented in 1973.  “It’s incredible…. All of a sudden I felt like ‘you’re back into performing’ and it just happened like that…. A lot of times in the past I’ve done gigs and it was rough to get through them. But now the combination seems to be right and it’s been clicking a lot.”  Supported by his 11-piece Caledonia Soul Orchestra (containing two horns and four strings among its players), Morrison revisited his greatest classics to that point including “Gloria,” “Domino,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Into the Mystic,” “Warm Love,” “The Way Young Lovers Do,” “Moondance,” and many more.  He also paid tribute to his own musical heroes with well-selected covers of Sam Cooke, Hank Williams, Ray Charles, and even Sesame Street‘s Joe Raposo.

Both the remastered edition of It’s Too Late to Stop Now and the new box set It’s Too Late to Stop Now… Volumes  II, III, IV & DVD will be available from Legacy on June 10th.

VOLUME II (Recorded live at The Troubadour, Los Angeles, May 23, 1973)

  1. Come Running (Van Morrison)
  2. These Dreams Of You (Van Morrison)
  3. The Way Young Lovers Do (Van Morrison)
  4. Snow In San Anselmo (Van Morrison)
  5. I Just Want To Make Love To You (Willie Dixon)
  6. Bring It On Home To Me (Sam Cooke)
  7. Purple Heather (Van Morrison)
  8. Hey, Good Lookin’ (Hank Williams)
  9. Bein’ Green (Joseph G. Raposo)
  10. Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)
  11. Listen To The Lion (Van Morrison)
  12. Hard Nose The Highway (Van Morrison)
  13. Moondance (Van Morrison)
  14. Cyprus Avenue (Van Morrison)
  15. Caravan (Van Morrison)

VOLUME III (Recorded live at the Santa Monica Civic, California, June 29. 1973)

  1. I’ve Been Working (Van Morrison)
  2. There There Child (Van Morrison, John Platania)
  3. No Way (Jeff Labes)
  4. Since I Fell For You (Woodrow Buddy Johnson)
  5. Wild Night (Van Morrison)
  6. I Paid The Price (Van Morrison, John Platania)
  7. Domino (Van Morrison)
  8. Gloria (Van Morrison)
  9. Buona Sera (Carl Sigman, Peter De Rose)
  10. Moonshine Whiskey (Van Morrison)
  11. Ain’t Nothing You Can Do (Don D. Robey, Joseph Wade Scott)
  12. Take Your Hand Out Of My Pocket (Sonny Boy Williamson)
  13. Sweet Thing (Van Morrison)
  14. Into The Mystic (Van Morrison)
  15. I Believe To My Soul (Ray Charles)

VOLUME IV (Recorded live at The Rainbow, London, July 23 & 24, 1973)

  1. Listen To The Lion (Van Morrison)
  2. I Paid The Price (Van Morrison, John Platania)
  3. Bein’ Green (Joseph G. Raposo)
  4. Since I Fell For You(Woodrow Buddy Johnson)
  5. Into The Mystic (Van Morrison)
  6. Everyone (Van Morrison)
  7. I Believe To My Soul (Ray Charles)
  8. Sweet Thing (Van Morrison)
  9. I Just Want To Make Love To You (Willie Dixon)
  10. Wild Children (Van Morrison)
  11. Here Comes The Night (Bert Berns)
  12. Buona Sera (Carl Sigman, Peter De Rose)
  13. Domino (Van Morrison)
  14. Caravan (Van Morrison)
  15. Cyprus Avenue (Van Morrison)

DVD (Recorded live at The Rainbow, London, July 24, 1973)

  1. Here Comes The Night (Bert Berns)
  2. I Just Want To Make Love To You (Willie Dixon)
  3. Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)
  4. Moonshine Whiskey (Van Morrison)
  5. Moondance (Van Morrison)
  6. Help Me (Ralph Bass, Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson)
  7. Domino (Van Morrison)
  8. Caravan (Van Morrison)
  9. Cyprus Avenue (Van Morrison)


Jeff Labes – piano & organ
Dave Shaw – drums
John Platania – guitar
David Hayes – bass guitar
Jack Schroer – alto, tenor, baritone saxophones
Bill Atwood – trumpet
Nathan Rubin, Tim Kovatch & Tom Halpin – violin
Nancy Ellis – viola
Terry Adams – cello