I don’t suppose there’s a deep soul fan who isn’t aware of Little Scotty’s epic two-part Slow That Disco Down with its hypnotic power driven by Scotty’s mumbling drawl and those stabbing brass figures. But the background to this mysterious artist’s story remained unheard until Windy City based journalist David Whiteis interviewed him for his excellent “Chicago Blues Portraits and Stories” book – and most of the info in this short piece about him comes from that source. As ever the musical opinions are mine.
Clarence Scott was born on March 24 1945 in Florence, SC and it was while he lived there as a child that the defining event in his life took place. An horrific house fire, started Scotty insists by the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, left him desperately badly burnt and even though he survived he was left very disfigured by the damage to his body and the multiple skin grafts that allowed him to lead something approaching a normal life. His appearance of course made him very self-conscious but an interest in music led him to both local churches and juke joints where his vocal talent and sharp wits enabled him to making a living. He roamed all over hustling his way around, getting involved not only in all aspects of the music business but from the 60s on joining radical groups and preaching the gospel.
So although it is impossible to think of Scotty having anything approaching a career in music – his life was far too unstructured for that – it was always a lynchpin of the mixture of activities that he scuffled his way through, gettings gigs or short tours where he could, song plugging - anything to earn a dollar. He started recording in New York around the early 70s, where he was “based” for several years from the mid 60s on, but the funky little “Thinking About My Baby” on the tiny S & J label wasn’t so much released as tentatively pressed as a one sided demo only.
His second 45 was “Slow That Disco Down” which must have been around 1975 or 76 as the lyrics can hardly have had any relevance before then. It came out on another tiny label Nile, owned apparently by a radical black Muslim group that Scotty got involved with. It did no sales at all of course but did find its way to Boston’s Skippy White who released it, slightly remixed or with tapes from a different take, on his Bluestown label a couple of years later. And of course it is thanks to this that it became a deep soul anthem.
In view of this disc it is very difficult to believe that the boogie tracks put out by Peter Brown in the Big Apple are the same artist. And until recently I thought that the artist on such dreadful nonsense as “Shout At The Disco” and “Going To A Disco Tonight” was somebody else altogether. But sadly it wasn’t.
By the turn of the 80s Scotty was living in Chicago turning himself into a modern bluesman and becoming a familiar and highly visible character in the city’s South Side. He was at all the city’s radical events, selling badges and buttons from a suitcase, as well as singing at house parties and the small clubs that could still be found around and about the streets. He used these occasions to rap about civil rights and religious matters as well as sing the blues and some classic soul tracks. During the 90s and into the new millennium he put out a few hand-to-mouth tracks and CDs on his own label, mostly blues but with a good portion of his philosophical musings as well. The best track was undoubtedly “If It Happened To Me It'll Happen To You” which tried to recreate the mood of “Slow That Disco Down” but the “home made” backing is just too poor to be worth the price of the “Gimme What You Promised” CD. And although these recordings are about as down home and primitive as you can get throughout it all he demonstrated time and again what a gifted vocalist he was. And one or two of his performances have found their way to Youtube - and highly entertaining they are too.
If things had been otherwise and he had had the opportunity of regular recordings and some sympathetic management and producers he could have enjoyed much greater success I’m sure. But he never got those sorts of breaks and he died recently on 1 February 2012.
Thinking about my baby ~ S & J 7405 (early 1970s)
Slow that disco down / pt 2 ~ NILE 3217 (1975/6?) / BLUESTOWN 709 (1977/8?)
Going to a disco tonight / Inst ~ QUEEN CONSTANCE 86-86 (1979?)
Shout at the disco / Roll at disco / I want to dance / Acid freak ~ SOUND OF NEW YORK 504 (1979/80?)
Gimme what you promised ~ KIMBLE (early 2000s)
Little Scotty sings the blues (2005)
Note ~ Little Scotty had 2 tracks on an unnamed LP on Beantown released in 1986 or thereabouts.
1. I'm very grateful to Alasdair Blaazer for the excellent suggestion, and for supplying the great vintage pic of Little Scotty, and the poster.
2. David Whiteis' book “Chicago Blues Portraits and Stories” is a must read for anybody interested in black music, not justy blues freaks. The stories of the artists and musicians give a vivid picture of like in the underbelly of the music business during the last half of the 20th century - excellent human interest as well. The chapter on Artis "Blues Boy" White" will be of particular interest to soul fans.
3. The CD "Lost Deep Soul Treasures" (reviewed here by Pete Nickols) has an unbroken 6mins plus of "Slow That Disco Down" on it. This is a slight variant from both the Nile and the Bluestown two part 45s - I wonder where the tape for that track came from.