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A View from the Other Side: Brother Claude Ely – “Satan Get Back!”

October 8, 2011 1 comment

Brother Claude Ely - "Satan Get Back!"

Pitch Black Brigade usually trucks and traffics in the dark side of music, heaviness and the metals. Today, though, in the interest of providing equal time, it’s time to shine a light and hear from to the other side, as it were. So today we are going to consider Brother Claude Ely’s fine gospel platter, “Satan Get Back!” (Ace Records, 2011).

Let’s get this straight at the start – I have little patience for the Satanic stuff in black metal, as I have written before. Black metal fixation with Beelzebub isn’t sinister – it’s stupid. For example, the band Gorgoroth has a song called “Procreating Satan.” Now, I can’t tell from the title or the lyrics what the song is about but if it is about “procreating” the Dark One then it should be titled, “Doing Satan’s Mom.” At best, black metal’s subject matter is sophomoric and stupid and at its worst it reeks of older dudes that know dawning corpse paint and playing paens to darkness is a cheap way to make a depressing and cynical living. Enough about the darkness, now we go towards the light.

I feel like singing today – don’t feel much like preaching

Claude Ely grew up amongst the hollers (hollows) and hills of southwestern Virginia. He was called to preach full time in 1949. Ely preached in a Holiness church. Now why is that important? It’s important because ministers and congregations at Holiness churches “get happy.” The services are raucous, emotional and passionate. Other denominations disparagingly called them “Holy Rollers.”

“Satan Get Back!” is a compilation of three separate recordings that were initially released by the mighty Cincinnati-based King Records (home to a diverse and powerful roster that included James Brown, the Stanley Brothers, and Charlie Feathers). The first seventeen songs were recorded live at two separate revivals held in front of the Letcher County Courthouse in Whitesburg, Kentucky in 1953 and 1954. The last eight songs come from a 1962 studio session.

The revival recordings are frantic; they crackle with a live wire-like intensity – just what you would expect from a tent meeting. Here is a taste of it – make sure you stick around for the last two minutes of preaching:

Brother Claude Ely – “I’m Crying Holy unto the Lord

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQ7qGlrcanE

As you can tell, the best part of the revival recordings on “Satan Get Back!” is Ely’s furious and propulsive guitar playing. Scotty Moore and Carl Perkins can’t touch him and his rhythmic technique (and that’s saying a lot because I think Scotty Moore hung the blue moon of Kentucky). Ely is known as the “Gospel Ranger,” but I am convinced that we should change his nickname to the “Rockabilly Ranger” because of his intense guitar work. His rhythm work is so propulsive that no matter which gospel gem he plays the tempo is almost exactly the same. And after a while, like most black metal songs, the revival songs begin to blur together because they are characterized by the same things – Ely’s chugging guitar, his powerful but unsubtle voice, and the backup singers answering his calls and cries.

The studio songs couldn’t be more different than the material from the revival. For starters they feature a traditional hillbilly band backing up Brother Claude.

Brother Claude Ely – “You Took the Wrong Road Again

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQ4BDp3fD_M

The studio sides are sedate; they lack the energy and the conviction of the live material. The songs also have a mournful quality that contrasts sharply with the exuberance of the revival. Even though the studio studio stuff was better recorded and more professionally played, the songs felt lifeless after 40 minutes of the live material.

The verdict: Brother Claude puts a smackdown on Satan.

Light: 1

Darkness: 0

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