Friday, March 29, 2013

Big Tree: Swayin' to the Music (Slow Dancin')

In 1966, Johnny Rivers formed Soul City Records to release recordings by other artists he had signed. Rivers was under contract to Imperial Records at the time and later was moved to United Artists after Transamerica Corporation purchased Liberty and its subsidiaries including Imperial. Up through 1970, Soul City was distributed by Liberty.

In 1970, Rivers sold the label and its catalog to Bell; however, he reserved the right to the Soul City name and logo. In 1976, Rivers resurrected the Soul City logo, as it appeared on his Epic Records' release of “Outside Help,” Later that same year, he revived the label for a short run including his own single “Ashes and Sand.”

When he signed to Big Tree Records in 1977, his Soul City imprint was appeared his recordings with this label; however, the recording masters were the property of Atlantic, Big Tree’s parent company. I would imagine that the inclusion of the logo was a courtesy of the label.

Big Tree was Rivers fourth label since United Artists and it had not gone well for the popular singer of the 60s and early 70s. Although he had charted in the Top 40 with “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1973 (#38) and “Help Me Rhonda” in 1975 (#22), he had not had a Top Ten hit since his cover of the “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” which peaked at #6 in 1972. Prior to this, seven of his singles hit the Top 10 and four additional hits were in the Top 20.

His run with Big Tree produced two singles “Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin')” and “Curious Mind (Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um).” While the latter nearly made it to the Top 40 charts by peaking at #41, his version of “Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin')” peaked at #10 in 1977. From his album “Outside Help,” it was a shot in the arm for Rivers’ career, but sadly it could not sustain him as he had no further hit singles.

Besides “Rockin’ Pneumonia,” “Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin')” was his only other certified gold single. In typical Rivers’ form, it was a cover of another artist’s tune. Written by Jack Tempchin as “Slow Dancing,” Rivers and Big Tree changed the name of the song to “Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin')” because the Addrisi Brothers had just released “Slow Dancin’ Don’t Turn Me On.”

“Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin')” ended up being Rivers’ swan song. It was his last stab at mainstream popularity and he would be relegated from here on out as an oldies artist. He revived the Soul City label for his own recordings in the late 80s and continues to record new material.


The Funky Kings Original Version

In 1976, Jack Tempchin’s band the Funky Kings released the original version of “Slow Dancing.” Their recording was an Adult Contemporary hit peaking at #13. It did crossover to the mainstream, but did not have enough strength to go beyond its #61 slot.

The original was slower than Johnny Rivers’ hit version of the song. In addition to Rivers recording, the song caught the attention of several other artists in 1977. It was also recorded by Olivia Newton-John, Unicorn, and Lorna Wright.

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