Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Girl Callin’ by Chocolate Milk


New Orleans funk/R&B band Chocolate Milk lit up the airwaves with this super-smooth cut back in 1977. The chill, laid-back groove just kind of pimp strolls and has an understated swag to it. The first thing that caught my attention about this track was the infectious piano part that’s played throughout the song. It’s just a simple two-chord progression, but it's very effective and really pulls the groove together.  Kool & the Gang used a similar keyboard part for their 1979 dance-floor smash “Ladies’ Night.” The song also has some terrific horn work and a sweet sax solo from Amadee Castenell, Jr. In addition, the vocals on this track are topflight, particularly the silky falsetto background harmonies.
 
“Girl Callin” was a single from Chocolate Milk’s fourth studio album We’re All In This Together, which was released in 1977. The song was written and produced by renowned songwriter/producer/arranger Allen Toussaint, who also helmed the album. It’s one of the band’s biggest hits, climbing all the way to #14 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart.  The album also performed quite well on the charts, climbing to #34 on the Billboard’s soul album charts.

Chocolate Milk was formed in New Orleans in 1974. The band’s core members began playing together while still students at St. Augustine High School. The original lineup for the band was the following: Amadee Castenell, Jr. (tenor saxophone, flute, percussion, vocals); Frank Richard (lead vocals, percussion); Joe Foxx (trumpet), Mario Tio (guitar); Robert Dabon (keyboards); Dwight Richards (drums, percussion, vocals) ; Ernest Dabon (bass);  and Ken “Afro” Williams (percussion).

And in the tradition of many fledgling young musicians in NOLA, Chocolate Milk started out playing for tourists on world-famous Bourbon Street and at Club 77. The band was soon cutting demos at Sea-Saint Studios in hopes that they would be heard byToussaint or his business partner the late Marshall Sehorn, who was a songwriter, producer, entrepreneur and music publisher. Toussaint eventually heard their demo for the song “Action Speaks Louder Than Words” and was quite impressed.

Sehorn negotiated a deal with RCA for Chocolate Milk to sign with the label. After the band signed with RCA, Toussaint got them into the studio to record their debut album Action Speaks Louder Than Words, which was released n 1975. He co-produced the album with Sehorn. The LP’s title track is a wickedly funky synth-driven protest song.  It’s one of the Chocolate Milk’s biggest hits and probably their most recognized song. The track peaked at #15 on the R&B singles chart in the U.S. and climbed to #69 on the pop singles chart in the states. The breakbeat on the song has been sampled by numerous hip-hop artists, including Eric B. & Rakim (“Move The Crowd”) and Stetsasonic (“Don't Let Your Mouth Write A Check Your Ass Can't Cash”).

Toussaint produced or co-produced five of Chocolate Milk’s eight albums and occasionally wrote songs for the band. Throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Chocolate Milk dropped a ton of great funk and R&B tracks. And in addition to Girl Callin’ and “Action Speaks Louder Than Words,” some of  their other R&B hits included “Groove City,” “Blue Jeans,” “Say Won’t Cha,” “Take It Off” and “Hey Lover.”

 Chocolate Milk was made up of an extremely talented group of musicians who possessed tremendous studio chops.  In addition to working on their own albums, the band members were in-demand session players; they have played on tracks by many celebrated artists, including Aaron Neville, Lee Dorsey, Patti LaBelle, Paul McCartney and Irma Thomas. They were also Toussaint’s regular studio band as well as his touring band on the road.

After nine productive years, the band broke up in 1983.  Chocolate Milk left behind a wealth of great music and made a name for itself as one of New Orleans’ finest funk and R&B outfits.

Over the years, Chocolate Milk has reunited for special events and concerts. And the band has been performing together more frequently in recent years.  In April of this year, they performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which is one of the premier music festivals in the United States. That must have been quite a treat for old-school fans of this super-talented band to watch them performing together onstage again; and the performance no doubt earned the band some new fans as well.



Girl Callin' at Amazon

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