Blind Israel Tolbert had a genuine surprise smash with “Big Leg Woman” in 1971, And in truth I think it’s a great party record, a throwback with rural image lyrics that recalls blues songs of long ago, a feeling reinforced by the subdued slide guitar fills, superb keyboard work and some funky drumming and horns. But I don’t think it does Tolbert’s voice justice – he had other discs with much better performances. They just didn’t sell as well.
A case in point is his first disc for New Orleans based C A Warren, the easy loping Darling I Love You. His relaxed delivery makes it all sound so simple – one of the hardest tricks to pull off. Even better was Got To Get Away From You– arguably his best ever cut – when his use of falsetto adds some great dramatic tension to the lovely chord changes, tasteful piano and guitar, and big horns. The great instrumentation here – as on all his Warren cuts - is provided by the Fame Gang.
The great flip of the disappointingly derivative follow-up 45 “Shake Your Big Hips” has been unjustly ignored. Lost Love is a super ballad on which Tolbert sings very effectively in a lower register. Now is the time to reclaim a little gem – listen to Clayton Ivey’s superb chorded piano fills and the “blue” horns and guitar.
Tolbert was born in Montgomery, AL on October 28 1939 and went to High School with Clarence Carter. Before and after making records he was a DJ which was how he got the nickname “Popper Stopper”, following in a line from a series of famous New Orleans DJs. After Warren records he started his own Tolchose label back home, recording strutting southern funk like the rousing “You Put It On Me” and the rhythmically intricate “Wrapped Tied Tangled Up In Love”. Despite the fact that the flip of the former is called “I Keep Coming Back” it is in fact a version of “Country Love” a slow song cut by Z Z Hill on his LP. The Tolchose tracks are worthy southern soul – and should be better known.
UPDATE ~ Eric Le Blanc writes with the sad news that "Popper Stopper" passed away on April 18 2007. I'm grateful to Eric for letting me know - but what a shame.
Habit / Darling I love you ~ WARREN 105 (1969)
I got love / Big leg woman ~ WARREN 106 (1970)
Lost love / Shake your big hips ~ WARREN 107 (1971)
Got to get away from you / Hot pants breakdown ~ WARREN 108 (1971)
Hot pants breakdown / Darling I love you ~ WARREN 111 (1972?)
You put it on me / I keep coming back ~ TOLCHOSE 976 (early 70s)
Wrapped tied tangled up in love / Inst ~ TOLCHOSE 200 (early 70s)
Popper stopper ~ WARREN LP 2038 (1971)