Various - Running The Voodoo Down...album review

The birth of black rock and its revolutionary tributaries get a superlative compilation, including a rare Hendrix track

Cover art for Various - Running The Voodoo Down...album

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While white audiences basked in 1967’s summer of love, the riots in the ghettos and growing threat of the Vietnam war ignited a black rock revolution, touting scorching guitar riffs as musical grenades. With Hendrix leading the charge, barriers between black music and rock collapsed, nudging George Clinton to form Funkadelic and influencing everyone from Sly Stone to Miles Davis.

The music on this long-overdue collection highlights black artists who threw away their stage uniforms, cranked up the decibels and sang about grim social conditions. Inevitably starting with influential funk firebrand James Brown, the set includes Hendrix on spellbinding form, joined by Buddy Miles’s drums and organ on Lightnin’ Rod’s Doriella du Fontaine – rare evidence of his association with activist proto-rappers the Last Poets (on CD for the first time since being released as a single in 1984).

Funkadelic are represented by the compact nastiness of Red Hot Mama and the always astonishing Maggot Brain, featuring guitarist Eddie Hazel on one of the greatest solos of all time (Hazel also appears with his luminous version of the Mamas And The Papas’ California Dreaming). Sly Stone unleashes seething, raw funk on Thank You For Talking To Me Africa and Miles is represented by the spooky, spaced-out scrabble of the curiously titled Willie Nelson.

Spreading its net far and wide, the set also includes the Chambers Brothers’ Time Has Come Today (later covered by the Ramones), the Isley Brothers segueing their bleak take on Neil Young’s Ohio into Hendrix’s Machine Gun, Swamp Dogg taking southern rock to the ghetto on Total Destruction Of Your Mind, Buddy Miles turning Neil Young’s Down By The River into a country soul-rock steamer, and the Undisputed Truth’s audacious reworking of Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone.

The lesser-known names often shine as brightly, notably Black Merda’s judderingMary Don’t Take Me On No Bad Trip, New York black punks Pure Hell’s uproarious I Feel Bad and New Orleans’ The Meters working blues-rock riffs in Liar. The set also includes James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, The Headhunters, Detroit’s Warlock, Don Cherry and Santana.

It’s a beautifully compiled set that shows what was really going on in 1967 and how subsequent years translated the aftershock. The guitars rock like a motherfucker throughout.

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!