Editors’ Notes The Rotary Connection emerged in late-'60s Chicago as an ensemble that ran counter to expectations on just about every level. An integrated band (unusual for the time) dreamed up by Marshall Chess of legendary blues label Chess Records, their sound arrived as a countercultural collision of psychedelia, blues, classical, world music (decades before the term became fashionable), and electronic experimentation. Their landmark 1967 debut album was a totally tripped-out affair full of radical left turns. By the time of their fourth LP, 1969's Songs, they had refined their sound to something more accessible but still thrillingly eclectic.
While Rotary Connection had by this point left behind the overtly spaced-out, avant-garde flourishes of the debut, the band (masterminded by arranger/producer/keyboardist Charles Stepney) was still drastically reinventing other artists' material in their pan-genre format. In fact, Songs was their first and only album to consist entirely of covers.
Their transformative take on Otis Redding's "Respect" makes the Stax stomper feel more like the sleek, supple sounds Curtis Mayfield would concoct a few years later for Super Fly. The Band's unassuming roots-rock stroll "The Weight" becomes a grandly orchestrated gospel-soul explosion. Pounding timpani and sizzling fuzz guitar give Muddy Waters' "I Got My Mojo Working" a startling makeover. No less than three songs from Cream's 1967 breakthrough Disraeli Gears get the Rotary treatment, and those already expansive tunes feel even headier sautéed in Stepney and company's orchestral soul-psych sauce. The opening of minds in late-'60s American music has few better exemplars than Songs.