One of the more interesting musical reinventions in 60’s Soul & Pop is Help Me by Ray Sharpe with the King Curtis Orchestra. The track is revered among collectors as one of the first appearances by a young James Marshall Hendrix on guitar. Hendrix at the time was in King Curtis’s band, who back Sharpe on this track. In addition to the early notoriety, the song went on to have unexpected second and third lives.
Help Me began as a simple progression from Curtis, Atlantic Records’ go-to band leader at the time. It was based on the recent hit, Gloria by Them, which had featured a young Van Morrison. Even now, Gloria is in most amateur guitarists’ quivers. Its three chords, ploddingly played, are simplicity defined. From there, R&B singer Ray Sharpe added seemingly extemporized lyrics (at one point adding a “here come my baby” straight out of Gloria) and a minor classic was born. Be sure to listen for a few tasty Hendrix licks on Part II starting around 3:01.
After its relative failure to light the charts on fire, Curtis recycled the track for the debut Atlantic release of a new signing with some promise, Aretha Franklin. ‘Retha and her sister Carolyn wrote new lyrics, or more accurately wrote actual verses for the first time, and a MAJOR classic was born. Aretha is soul personified and it’s impossible not to like any song that name checks Batman and The Green Hornet in its fading moments.
Call in the caped crusader, Green Hornet, Kato too
I’m in so much trouble, I don’t know what ta do
From there, the cover versions started amassing. Nina Simone’s is the best known.
King Curtis liked the progression so much that he revisited it as an instrumental, renaming it “Instant Groove”.
However, Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger’s version is my favorite as it adds fantastic bluesy organ playing by Auger. Combined with a bit of uber-groovy syncopation and Driscoll’s commanding vocal, it’s a winner.
The most recent (and oddest) version is a recent official mash up created by OMD which merges their 1980 hit Messages with Aretha’s version of Save Me.
On a side note, there have been many variations of Gloria itself, but perhaps the greatest is by Van Morrison’s old band mates in Them who briefly changed their name to the Belfast Gypsies. It’s a great garage take produced by pop exploiter-extraordinaire Kim Fowley, who never let an opportunity to cash-in on a current hit pass him by. The track is called Gloria’s Dream.
Thanks for wading through this morass of I-VII-IV chords with me. I recognize that three simple chords probably shouldn’t be subjected to this much scrutiny (unless it’s Louie Louie, of course).