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James Shaw (aka The Mighty Hannibal aka King Hannibal) was an American R&B, soul and funk singer, songwriter and record producer known for his showmanship and outlandish costumes. Several of his songs often carried deeper social or political themes. His biggest hit was “Hymn No. 5,” a commentary on the effects of the Vietnam War on servicemen, which was banned on radio.
Shaw was raised in the Vine City neighborhood of Atlanta where he started singing doo-wop as a teenager, and in 1954 he joined his first group, The Overalls. In 1958 Shaw moved to Los Angeles where, under the name of Jimmy Shaw, he recorded several solo singles. At this point he also adopted the name ‘Hannibal’ and in 1962 he joined King Records, who released four further singles. Between 1962 and 1965 Hannibal also worked as a pimp in Los Angeles, a lifestyle that saw him dropped by King Records.
In 1966 (and back in Atlanta) Hannibal adopted a more socially conscious stance and wrote “Hymn No. 5” which became his best-known recording, reaching No. 21 on the Billboard R&B chart. The success the track brought however fueled a growing heroin addiction, and Hannibal spent eighteen months in prison for failing to pay a tax bill. Released from jail (and free of drugs), he restarted his recording career in the early 1970s when he issued a number of singles and the album Truth, (1973) on the Aware label.
Trying to find a new direction in the late 1970s, Hannibal was employed on the staff as a record producer at Venture Records, before working on the Atlanta Voice newspaper and even taking up acting roles. in 2001 Norton Records released Hannibalism, a compilation album of songs written between 1958 and 1973. The cult film, Velvet Goldmine, also included fragments of his work and in 2009 he was the subject of a documentary film (Showtime!). Hannibal lost his eyesight in 2002 but still continued to perform live, and even enjoyed a seventieth birthday celebration on stage in 2009. The following year he contributed on Elton John and Leon Russell’s album The Union. Hannibal passed away in 2014, at the age of 74.
Hannibal’s larger-than-life performance aesthetic, combined with his willingness to address social issues in many of his songs, make him an important figure in the history of soul and funk, and a legacy worth examining.
Today we present to you the first (official) vinyl reissue of King Hannibal’s 1973 masterpiece Truth. Expect mad funky soul classics and intense dirty tracks backed by energetic musicians from the likes of Lee Moses, George McCurn (The Staple Singers) & Herman Hitson (Jimi Hendrix). At times the tunes on ‘Truth’ drift into a mellower southern type of soul and at other times the raw, fuzzy & gritty funky guitars make it a full-on funk-rock type of album more indebted to Funkadelic. Even on the slower tracks the psych-fuzz guitar from Lee Moses washes over everything, leaving a delightfully hazy gauze perched atop the simmering rhythms. The groove on ‘truth’ grabs you from the first note to the last.