DO THE JAMES BROWN... James Brown had figured out a way to orchestrate a drum set, and make everything in the band work around a groove, rather than a melody," wrote Rickey Vincent in Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of the One.
The Godfather of Soul's good timing extended to the era he was born in. He came of age when the isolated South was integrating with America through massive migration and through the struggle against segregation. In 1977, Brown told Cliff White that his mid-60s masterpieces depended upon being exposed to the North: "My eyes started opening...my brain started to intercept the new ideas and thoughts. I became a big city thinker. And I started tying that in." His epochal record "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" was recorded in February 1965, the same month Malcolm X was assassinated, and was released in July 1965, three weeks before the Watts Rebellion.
Brown also saw that for most blacks the poverty he'd experienced in the South was also rampant in the North. And James knew poverty intimately--he was often dismissed from school for "insufficient clothes" and was sent to prison at fifteen for stealing a coat. He was essentially homeless from the age of four until future sideman Bobby Byrd's mother took him in at age eighteen.
Because Brown didn't cross over like Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and the Motown artists, his core audience-North and South--remained poor. He continued to speak for them and to them. This was so much true that in 1975 a white man in New York City took hostages at a New York City restaurant to protest the plight of blacks in America and demanded an audience with James Brown. According to Jet Magazine, the gunman felt "that no one could speak more authoritatively for blacks than James Brown." The hostage taker was captured after he fell asleep. Rickey Vincent wrote: "Absurd as the event was, the idea that James Brown carried more weight than any black politician, and still carried the moral authority of the Black nation, was right on target."
Brown endorsed Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 Presidential election and Richard Nixon in 1972. Both times he was damned as a sellout. But Brown's social and political agenda went far beyond the politics of Humphrey or Nixon. After James Meredith was shot in Mississippi in 1966, James flew to his side and he did benefits for both SNCC and the NAACP. James Brown was anti-nuke. His early tours featured an implicit critique of a criminal justice system he knew all too well.
In Living in America: The Soul Saga of James Brown, Cynthia Rose describes the suitcase prop used by George Haines, the prosecutor who sent a teenaged JB to prison in 1949 ("Your honor, here's my suitcase! If you let this man go free, I'll pack up and flee this town!"). "That suitcase became a signature in the paroled entertainer's late 1950s show," Rose writes, "a red prop emblazoned on one side with Please Please Please and on the other with Baby Take My Hand. Brown would use it to close a set." Later, when he was doing six years in prison for traffic violations, more time than William Calley did for the My Lai massacre, James told the New York Times: "I think there's a lot of money spent on housing people away from home that should be spent on building them a home so they won't ever have to leave." On 1972's "Funky President," Brown was an early proponent of reparations ("Let's get together, get some land") and even called for people to own their own factories.
According to road manager Alan Leeds, James held court on this agenda in his dressing room every night. He did the same in rib joints, hair salons, and private homes (RRC staffer Black Rose was at one such session in Oklahoma City in the 1970s). A meeting that Brown described as "cordial but direct" took place with SNCC's H. Rap Brown to discuss strategies for black liberation. They disagreed over the use of violence and, when Rap Brown accused him of being a big star who was out of touch with the masses, James took exception, pointing out: "I probably come from a much poorer background than you do."
Certainly, James was working from personal memory when he produced a 1973 Maceo Parker track, "The Soul of a Black Man" and added lyrics such as "It's so hard! It's so baaaaaaaad...When you got three meals a day: oatmeal, no meal, and missed meal!"
In 1968, James had a massive hit with "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud") featuring the key line: "We'd rather die on our feet than be livin' on our knees." "Say It Loud" is actually an even more powerful statement today, now that the more or less automatic unity of 1968 has been replaced with the hatred of poor blacks expressed by Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, and many others.
Brown said it was clear from the shrinking number of white faces at his shows that "Say It Loud" cost him much of the crossover audience his mid-60s hits had built. Yet the overwhelming power of Brown's music and message kept leaping racial boundaries (even on "Say It Loud" the children's chorus was made up entirely of whites and Asians). Later, country stars such as Barbara Mandrell and Porter Wagoner waged a lengthy and ultimately successful campaign to bring James Brown to the› Grand Ol Opry.› James got up on that hallowed stage and did a couple of country songs and spoke about the impact of the Grand Ol Opry on his work. He was greeted warmly by most Opry fans who, in addition to enjoying the music, may have felt a kinship with Brown based on a common background of Southern pover
To impose his will upon the world, James Brown constructed a byzantine business empire and rehearsed and punished his band members to the point of mutiny. "If I had to fight James Brown, right away I would have a gun," Brown's former bandleader Fred Wesley said. "Because his determination to win is...just more powerful than anyone else's I've ever seen."
Brown ignored record contracts when they got in his way. For instance, in 1959 he went to Dade Records when his label, King Records, wouldn't allow him to record instrumentals. The result was "Do The Mashed Potatoes, Parts 1 and 2," a Top 10 R&B hit issued under the name of Nat Kendrick and the Swans. Brown did it again later when he recorded a brilliant jazz organ album for Smash. He built a business empire of radio stations and real estate in pursuit of not just wealth but his own vision of freedom. As he put it: "You need power to get freedom...You need freedom to create." And create he did. Not just his own monumental catalog (including the number one 1962 pop album Live at the Apollo, which James had to pay for himself because his record company said it wouldn't sell), but a torrent of albums by sidemen and singers alike. Brown's own People Records issued message records by some of his female vocalists, such as Vicki Anderson's "Message From the Soul Sisters" and Lyn Collins' "Take Me Just as I Am."
Today we are once again sliding into the abyss that James Brown described in the liner notes to his 1974 album, Hell. "It's hell down here and we've got to make a change. It's hell when you don't have a job and you can't eat. Drugs are hell. War is hell. Prison is hell." And, most important of all: "It's hell tryin' to do it by yourself" James Brown had a monumental ego but he spared no effort to involve other people in the realization of his personal and artistic vision. He reached out relentlessly to find the hundreds of musicians and singers who helped him to create his music. He built a vast nationwide network of DJs, record stores, small businesses, and fans. He made sure that he stayed connected to his core audience.
Midway through the epic version of "There Was a Time" from Live at the Apollo, Volume 2 James Brown is leading the crowd through a chant. He calls out how many "unh!"s to bellow out to follow the refrain of "Hey, hey, I feel allright." The band is unbelievable-a thousand subtleties coalescing into a mighty rhythmic river. But there's a guy in the audience who's messing up the ritual by following a separate count. James chides him gently, speculating that the man is in a hurry to take the power of the show back home to the bedroom ("He's got something else on his mind!"). It continues and James pleads with him: "Come on brother, don't take all this groove away!"
James is laughing because he knows that a nuclear warhead couldn't take that groove away. But he's also dead serious, because he knows what it took to create the James Brown groove and bring it to the people. He knows that the groove contains› more than music, that it's a train with a destination of the greatest importance. James Brown died before his groove got to the end of its journey. He left it for us to do with what we will, what we can, what we should. We'll know we've completed that mission when every man, woman, and child on earth can survey their lives and loudly proclaim: "Hey, hey, I feel allright unh! unh! unh!"
KNIGHTMAREšThe focus of most commentary on Bono being named a "Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire" has been on the first word of that title. It ought to be on the last.
Every other rock star (Paul McCartney, Elton John, Mick Jagger) who's been knighted received the award for the usual reason: Extraordinary service to the well-being of Her Majesty's economy. The exception has been Bob Geldof, who received his "honorary" knighthood for philanthropy. He only later made millions by starting an Internet travel agency and becoming a partner in the media company that owns TV's Survivor. But Geldof's Live Aid was British-based and Sir Bob has long lived in the U.K.
Bono lives in Ireland and France and U2's profits flood into Ireland and, in a recent tax dodge, to a bank in Holland. What did he do to improve the British Empire? Consider his key role in the 2005 Live8 concerts, which falsely claimed to "put pressure upon" the G8 nations meeting in Scotland to "do something" about the health conditions of Africans. The concerts did the opposite, providing cover for a meeting where the world's richest nations carved up their orbits of planetary greed while offering less than ever to the poor. Live8 did something, all right: It headed off a lot of the energy that might have brought crowds thundering to the doors of the G8 conference headquarters, as has happened at similar gatherings from Seattle to Switzerland.
Keep in mind that it's British prime minister Tony Blair, not Queen Elizabeth, who provides the list of knighthood honorees. While Blair is a well-known starfucker it's impossible to ignore the timing of Bono's reward. Blair has been George Bush's primary international ally in prosecuting the war in Iraq, a war opposed by the majority of the people on earth, now including Britain and the United States. Bono is second only to Blair as an international ally of Bush. U2's front man routinely makes appearances and attends private meetings with Dubya, at which Bono never mentions the President's crimes against the poor, from Iraq to New Orleans and all points in between. Bono doesn't even challenge Bush's disastrous AIDS policy in Africa, under which any group accepting U.S. funding is forbidden to distribute condoms.
The fact is that the entire Bono/Geldof strategy--One, Red, whatever their corporate marketing men will tell them to call it this year--has failed as disastrously as Bush and Blair's war in Iraq. Every day, a thousand children around the world develop AIDS. Every year, 380,000 die. These numbers are rising, not falling. And the calamity is greatest where Bono and Geldof have applied their version of "pressure"--Africa.
Bono and Geldof can't create a world where no one starves and infectious diseases are minimized because they insist that only the powerful can make change--the only role of ordinary people is to make symbolic protests against the "indifference" of those powerful people. Bono says he speaks for millions of impoverished Africans yet not one impoverished African has ever said that Bono speaks for them.
There's another way to go about solving the crisis. It involves mobilizing millions of people, but not to get them to use credit cards, wear a certain type of sneaker, shop at the right place, or stand outside the walls and beg. It requires helping to unite the poor themselves to press their demands on those who run the world. Rock stars would be useful in this process, just as anyone would be who dreams of justice and equality.
A concrete example is provided by the Witness program, founded by Peter Gabriel in 1992. Witness provides video equipment to grassroots groups around the world, which is used to make films which expose injustice in those nations. It also provides a website in which the news can get out to the rest of the world--not to "speak truth to power" (power's interest lies in publicly ignoring the truth) but to show truth to everybody else.
An even better example is the World Social Forum, where hundreds of grass-roots organizations gather in an explicit parallel to the G8 conferences. Bono and Geldof do not appear at the gates of these gatherings, nor are they ushered in for banquets and private conferences. They were absent at the 2007 World Social Forum even though it was held in Africa, the continent for which Sir Paul Hewson and Sir Bob Geldof relentlessly profess their concern.
There is no place for the knights' corporate marketing strategies at the WSF, meetings which allow the poor and powerless to speak for themselves across huge geographical and cultural gulfs and to begin to find common purpose, share strategies, and brainstorm about a world where concepts like "democracy" aren't just propaganda terms tossed at ideological opponents.
No one will ever win a knighthood for such work. But that's not because it can't change the world. It's because it will.
WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?...Bono is a public face of The Gap, which allegedly is giving a percentage of its sales to aid the poor in Africa. A more representative picture of Gap financial practices can be seen in the $36 million bonus given to CEO Paul Pressler when he was fired on January 22 (Pressler's compensation was $27.19 million in 2005). Sarah Jessica Parker was paid $38 million to appear in Gap ads for a year beginning in 2004-the Washington Post's Roxanne Roberts calculated Parker's daily wage at $104,109. Meanwhile, the National Labor Committee reports that workers at Gap supplier Western Factory in Jordan work 109 hours a week, are paid below minimum wage, and are routinely beaten for production mistakes.
LIVING IN AMERICA...It was in Karachi, Pakistan, while still dreaming about coming to America-some friends and I went to a new burger joint that had opened on the main drag leading to the airport. As soon as we entered the parking lot, I could hear this awesome groove blaring out of the big speakers that were outside the joint, and the words "Get on up, stay on the scene, like a sex machine." We found out later that it was sung by a man called James Brown.
A few years later in the early 90s I was in America and wrote a song called "Thinkin' Bout James Brown" and recorded it with my then band The Noizemakers. This was around the time when James Brown was having problems and was in jail.-Tariq Mirza (Tee-M), Los Angeles
THE ENVELOPES, PLEASE...Rock Heroine of the Month: Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who also fronts the heavy metal band Wicked Wisdom, recently donated $1 million to her high school alma mater, The Baltimore School for the Arts. The money will help go toward a new theater for the school, which Jada had requested be named after Tupac Shakur, her former classmate and close friend. The school, however, refused her request and will name the building after her...Rock Sports Commentator of the Month: Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, who writes a diary for the Los Angeles Lakers website. Flea predicted that Charlotte Bobcat rookie Adam Morrison-who made a point of praising Rage Against the Machine and Che Guevara in his draft day TV interviews and had been going through some shooting woes-would "come bursting out of his slump like a wild sagebrush jackrabbit with folded ears exploding out of Captain Beefheart's brain." Morrison, who had shot only 4 for 34 in four games, promptly scored 38 points in his next two, shooting 14 for 26. Does this portend increased sales of Beefheart's Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) and Trout Mask Replica among NBA players?...Rock Idiot of the Month:Billboard Executive Editor Tamara Coniff. In a recent editorial entitled "The Crack Connection," Coniff contends that selling pirated CDs is more profitable than selling crack. She then makes the unsubstantiated assertion that drug dealers and gang members are the main retailers of pirated CDs. She gives major props to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for arresting anyone for crimes such graffiti or turnstile jumping and opines that a similar "zero tolerance" policy towards so-called piracy is the only thing that can save the music industry. She trots out the familiar big lie that the poor cops are just outmanned in the streets while conveniently overlooking the fact that the typical seller of pirated CDs is a poor immigrant and his typical customer doesn't have the money to buy CDs at retail prices.
"Jerry Wexler told a journalist once that 'Cold Sweat' just fucked up everybody, that it made every musician who worked for Atlantic Records go back to the drawing board to try and catch up with what this guy was doing...The way Brown structured music, the way he put rhythm ahead of melody and kind of de-Westernized the writing and arrangement of pop music, has affected practically every genre. The way the Red Hot Chili Peppers construct their songs wouldn't be the same if it hadn't been for James Brown. It doesn't mean they sound like him or would even necessarily think they had been influenced by him, but he changed what it was possible to do in writing popular songs."-Alan Leeds
FANFARE FROM THE COMMON MAN...Common, perhaps the archetypal "positive rapper," has linked up with the Gap with the help of the Black-Eyed Peas' will.i.am to promote the company's clothing in peace sign-themed commercials and billboards. As noted in RRC 218, Gap clothing is made under barbaric sweatshop conditions. What are the issues here?
That Common is a "bad guy"?
That there is no connection, no unity, between the poor who work in sweatshops and the poor who go on to make the music that we hear?
That an artist like Common is ignored by radio and has to raise his profile any way he can?
That it's impossible to make clothing in our globalized economy without abusing those who do the work?
That the Gap is hypocritical for basing an ad campaign on the peace sign when it is at war with its own employees?
Is there a difference between Common's alliance with the Gap and the alliance with the Gap made by U2's Bono, who knows all about the company but says it doesn't matter?
Some of these questions have simple answers, others are more complicated. Common's work for the Gap-a dance with the devil whatever the motivation-also means that those who define "positive rap" as the mere absence of violence or "offensive" language have to change their definition. There's nothing positive about these GAP ads.
RRC editor Dave Marsh has a music and politics show on Sirius Satellite Radio that features great music, a variety of special artist and activist guests, and Dave's provocative commentary. Sundays 10 AM to Noon, Eastern Standard Time (repeats that night from 1-3 AM Eastern time). Sirius Channel 102, Stars.
A FAMILY AFFAIR...Paul Goode writes: The family atmosphere surrounding Mr. Brown's inner circle must have been real. About a dozen years ago, a friend and I caught Maceo Parker's group Roots Revisited in a small dinner club in Seattle. It was a midweek show and not crowded, so they sat us at a table at the foot of the stage. A few minutes later, an attractive African-American woman in her forties joined us. We struck up a conversation, and it turned out that she had once been a backup singer for James Brown. We were impressed that she knew the Collins brothers ("Those boys were crazy"); it became clear that she looked back on those days with great fondness. Pretty soon, Maceo, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis filtered into the room and up to the stage. One of them recognized her instantly even though it had probably been 20 years since she left the band. Their faces lit up, they all hugged her, wanted to know what she was doing, and--once the show started--introduced her to the audience. It made her night, but then that's kind of thing family members do for each other. [Paul Goode is an RRC subscriber from Seattle]
DOUBLE YOUR STANDARD, DOUBLE YOUR...FUN?...Edgar Bronfman, the head of› Warner Music Group, was asked by Reuters in early December if any of his seven kids "stole" music. "I'm fairly certain that they have, and I'm fairly certain that they've suffered the consequences," Bronfman replied. "A bright line around moral responsibility is very important," he added.
How did Bronfman clamber to the moral perch from which he slanders as thieves not only his own children, but the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who download music without paying for it? The Bronfman family fortune, which allowed Edgar to buy his way into the music business in the first place, came from running booze during Prohibition (i.e. it was illegal). In recent years, companies headed by Bronfman have faced legal action for fixing CD prices and for paying bribes to radio stations in return for airplay. We're fairly certain he has suffered no consequences.
Check out the RRC website at www.rockrap.com. It will soon contain an archive of all the on-line issues of RRC and already includes The Hidden History of Rock & Rap and a section on how musicians can get access to health care.
"Right now at the Augusta Chronicle website, they've got a book that people can sign with their memories of James Brown from through the years. There was one from a high school band musician who had been in a school bus on the way to a game in Augusta. James was friendly with the director. One night he stopped their bus on the way to a game and got on the bus to give the band a pep talk. He spent 20 minutes shaking the hands of musicians, encouraging them, thanking them for representing their school. And years later, one of the kids from that bus ran into Brown somewhere in Augusta. And he said, 'Mr. Brown, I don't know if you remember, but I was one of the musicians on that bus you talked to.' And James said, 'I remember you! Do you still play that horn? Because my band is rehearsing, and if you want to come sit in, you can!'"-Alan Leeds
ROCK CRITIC OF THE MONTH..."Right off the bat, I'm not the Hyphy spokesperson. I don't go to shows-I hardly even go to clubs-I'm a good ten years older than most of the people in the scene, if not more. But what I do tell them is, 'Look, in the same way that you can be over here and listen to and understand bounce music but it really helps to go to New Orleans, and you can have all your Chopped and Screwed CDs but it really helps to go to Houston to understand, it's the same with Hyphy.' From Sly Stone to Digital Underground to now, Hyphy is a witty, quirky take on things. And you have to be in the Bay and know the diversity of the Bay and its weird geographic shape, with its pockets of extreme poverty right next to pockets of extreme wealth, and all that weird interplay that creates the Bay as a whole. Even the weather-the weird way all the clouds butt up against the coast-it's like everything's cruising along and then all of a sudden you get to the coast and everything's turbulent. And it's always there, that energy in the air-it's always turbulent, never still. And all that factors into Hyphy."--DJ Shadow interviewed by Jeff Chang in The Believer
SOUTHERN MAN...The following is excerpted from the introduction to Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History by RRC's Lee Ballinger:
Imagine yourself in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis in 1974. The place drips with history and, rumor is, there's more being made upstairs at an unprecedented meeting between Southern musical titans Elvis Presley, James Brown, and Lynyrd Skynyrd leader Ronnie Van Zant.
Elvis and James tell Ronnie the true story of how they used to secretly get together in hotel rooms in Los Angeles and Las Vegas to sing traditional gospel songs. Ronnie's response is to launch into "Old Blind Barnabas," one of James's and Elvis's favorite tunes.
Elvis is only mildly surprised to learn that Ronnie grew up on the edge of a black neighborhood in Jacksonville and sang in a black church. After all, Elvis lived for a time in the middle of a black neighborhood in Tupelo, Mississippi, and often attended a black church in Memphis with his white friends. James jumps in to explain how he started out singing in Byrd's Gospel Starlighters.
Ronnie and James try to top each other with stories of how hard their bands rehearse and, when Ronnie says he punches his guys out if they make a mistake, James laughs and says, "Man, my band complains about me and all I do is fine 'em."
Ronnie takes a swig out of a bottle of Jack Daniels and shakes his head. "The three of us, we had to work hard. We had to make it. Otherwise, it would be back to picking cotton."
After sending out for some ribs, the guys get to talking about prison. James describes the three years he spent in the joint as a Georgia teenager. Ronnie talks about his friends who were sentenced to Florida's infamous Raiford penitentiary and how that inspired him to write "Four Walls of Raiford." Elvis stares at the floor as he softly tells about how his dad was sent to Parchman Farm in Mississippi-a prison that inspired countless blues songs-for forging a check to buy food for his family.
James nods his head and describes what made him check out of Augusta's second-rate black schools for good in the seventh grade. Ronnie responds that everyone in Lynyrd Skynyrd bailed out by their sixteenth birthday (Jacksonville schools were so bad they were disaccredited by the state of Florida).
After they finish eating, Elvis, James, and Ronnie head down to the hotel bar in search of a piano.
HOME XEROXING TIPS...In a November 11 Billboard guest editorial, Billy Bragg begins by noting the ability of "social networking sites" to distribute music to millions of potential listeners without entanglement with a record company. "Yet there are pitfalls," Bragg writes. For instance, MTV's Flux site invites artists to post their material in the hopes of getting on the parent network. Yet MTV Flux claims the right to exploit (and even edit) that content any way it wants to "without payment to you" and, more brazenly, claims ownership of the content›even if the artist removes it from the site. Bragg quotes Robert Amlung, an executive at German broadcaster ZDF: "If someone puts images up on our site, they are giving their rights away." Bragg, who single-handedly forced MySpace to alter its onerous terms of service last summer, concludes: "If people begin to feel that they are unfairly exploited by companies whose only interest is to make money, none of which is passed on to the content creators, then this community is savvy enough to take its material to a place beyond the reach of corporate exploitation." [RRC would love to hear about any new social networking sites outside corporate control-write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org]
SEE YA!...I am not one who will mourn Tower Records' demise. It isn't only that I hardly ever shopped there because the one near me was dirty and the employees were surly and didn't know anything about music. No, it's because I have a long memory.
My memory records 1970/71 when Tower Records, a new, commercial kid on the block wiped out Leopold's Records, which was the founding store of the Students of Berkeley (SOB) cooperative, which in turn comprised a stereo store, a clothing store and more as well as Leopold's. The people who worked in the SOB stores knew their merchandise and the music scene. They were mostly hippies, of course, but some of them had a business sense, too. They wanted their stores to be hip (not phony-hip), relaxed and fun places where people could hang out, chat and also buy some music or a stereo or a T-shirt or whatever.
I was there when it was being built and worked there for a while, too. My boyfriend at the time ran the stereo shop. He was also a musician. Now he is an actor in New York.
Tower Records came to town with its chain store massacre ready to wipe out the cooperative with its commercialism. And it did.
My fond memories of Leopold's remain. No, I won't miss Tower at all.-Carolyn Zaremba
JUST EXACTLY WHY DO WE NEED THE MUSIC BUSINESS?...In response to a question on his website [southsidejohnny.com] on why some of his old albums haven't been reissued, Southside Johnny wrote:
A short course in the music biz: The record companies own all the masters of my albums. They are called catalogue. The more catalogue a company has, the greater its assets, and the greater amount of money it can borrow from the banks at a "friendly" rate. My records are just part of the vast catalogues of a number of companies. They don't release them because they don't think they can sell enough of them to make any profit. But they won't sell them back to me (except for a very large chunk of money) because they want both the catalogue power and the tax write off for inventory. I would love to own my masters, and try every so often to get them, but to date, no luck. That's why I encourage all youse message board folks to burn copies for anyone who really wants a CD. Let the fatcat, pinstripedsuitwearin', cigar slobbererin' bastards sue me.
Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story (Magic Umbrella Films/Tombstone Records DVD)-Fred and Toody Coles have been happily married for the better part of the past forty years, making music and raising beautiful kids and grandkids and still finding room to "adopt" drummer Andrew Loomis over 20 years ago. Fred Cole's professional career offers a mind-spinning alternative take on the past 40 years of music.›Starting in the early 60s trying to channel› Little Stevie Wonder, Cole moved on to play a role in several garage punk bands-his band Lollipop Shoppe's "You Must Be a Witch" is featured on Nuggets.›At the beginning of the 70s punk movement, the Coles formed the Portland favorites, The Rats. Dead Moon, with Loomis, took shape in the 80s. Images of Fred Cole building-his home, his music shop, the foundations of an abandoned homestead in the Yukon Territory, even cutting his records with the lathe that cut the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie"-abound throughout the interviews, and they serve as the perfect visual complement to watching the band's shaman-like intensity playing their music.›Against all sorts of objective and spiritual obstacles, Dead Moon has found a way to survive, and just as the band members maintain a superstitious handshake ritual before each performance, the whole story illustrates the magical power of music to sustain the human spirit...
The Complete Fania All Stars Movie Collection (Vampi Soul DVD)-Four films, mostly in black and white, all with absolutely no narration, yet the power of classic 70s era salsa, salsa dura, comes through with grace, clarity, and overwhelming passion. Our Latin Thing explores the Nuyorican social environment where the music was born while including live footage of club gigs that are so exciting your TV may spontaneously catch fire. Fania All Stars Live in Africa brings in some of salsa's musical roots. Salsa the Film revolves around a Yankee Stadium concert that, in effect, raises two questions: How can a genre of music fill a stadium when most Americans never heard of it? Why do the artists onstage in front of 70,000 people usually play small clubs? Geraldo Rivera's hamhanded attempts at social commentary undercut an otherwise good film. The surprise of the bunch is 30th Anniversary: Fania All Stars Live in Puerto Rico, a 1994 film that we assumed would be like most oldies reunions-stronger on memories than performance. No way. These long-in-the-tooth vets create music and just general excitement the equal of any other show chronicled in this collection. It's one magnificent final spasm of the classic salsa that, despite the fact that DJs worldwide still spin it's classic discs for a rapidly growing audience, is best served live.
WE ALL GET TOGETHER, IN EVERY KIND OF WEATHER, AND WE DO...THE CAMEL WALK...Rev. Dr. James White writes: Obviously, there are documented forms of African Dance rituals of young males during rites of passage and before major battles that closely resemble break dance moves, especially Kapoeria, African Martial Arts.
The most powerful documentation of breakdance-like moves, including head and hand spins, popping and locking, and yes even moon walking come from the Jitterbug crowd from the hood. I have seen a few full length performances for buggers from the hood, but most of what is on film is white kids doing the "Lindy Hop," a reference to the aerial acrobatics of the Jitterbug. So much of the Jitterbug was the spectacular aerobatic tosses, throws, and hops, that many› forget the ground moves of head spinning, hand spinning, spider walking, deep splits, and special effects moves on the ground.
James Brown's moves--the bending slide, the one foot rapid twist, the rapid walking in place step, the double-jumping--are all moves that came right out of the Azusa Street Revival of Methodist seminarian Reverend William Seymour. The Azusa California Revival brought the Holy Ghost experience from the Book of Acts back to Christianity. The Charismatic, Evangelistic, Full Gospel, and Sanctified Movements in Protestant Christianity were launched from the Azusa Revival. Seymour was a Black Methodist Preacher. The Denomination that stayed truest to the essence of the revival was the Church Of God In Christ. You can go right to COGIC Churches today, during praise service or a good choir performance, or at the end of a powerful and anointed message by a gifted evangelistic preacher and you will find every one of The Godfather of Soul's classic dance moves, some of which he especially revived for the Hallelujah scene in one of the Blues Brothers movies. Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson, and Sam Cooke borrowed›heavily from Sanctified Church Shoutin Moves, including placing a cape or robe across the shoulders of the preacher who had collapsed to his knees.
From Africa and Kapoeria to the Jitterbug, to the Sanctified Shout, to James Brown, and other sources I am sure are out there, Break Dancing drew upon a rich historic well of cultural expression to anchor it as a major element of Hip Hop Culture. James Brown's greatest contribution to Hip Hop has to be his prophetic visions of driving beats and arrangements that were the perfect blend of Rhythm and Blues and Rock and Roll energies. We call it Funk. Like W.C. Handy, Ray Charles and others, JB brought the Soul of Spiritual Music from the Black Church to the popular culture. That's why he's called the Godfather of Soul. Sam Cooke did the same thing in a smoother more sultry way. It was those loops, breaks, and beats that JB pulled out of his bands on stage, in the studio and on television performances that gave Hip-Hop something to build on. JB invented Funk in the 1950's & 60's. In the 1970's Funk was taken to a whole new level with the drums and bass guitar arrangements heating up the airwaves. Contemporary Jazz, Disco, and Pop Rock records by Bowie, the Stones, and late Beatles owe their soul to the Funk. Earth Wind & Fire, Parliament Funkadelic, War, the Isley Brothers, and Confunction were the epitome.
The music of James Brown and later Funk Era superstars music is the foundation and backbone that, through looping, sampling, and imitating, nearly all of Hip-Hop & Rap Music's biggest hits have come from. Nile Rodgers, a former Black Panther and co-leader of the Funk/R&B/Disco group Chic was a student of the Funk. His production of Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" gave birth to the Black Family Reunion National Anthem and his production of "Good Times" was the background track that carried "Rappers Delight" from the first major nationally released Rap Record on into Hip Hop History. Hip Hop's Greatest Hits are built on the beats, loops, and samples from Funk Records.
James Brown gave Hip Hop, R&B, Rock n Roll, and Contemporary›Jazz their soul. He is our Godfather Eternal. Rest in Peace JB. [Rev. Dr. James G. White is 1st District Supervisor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin County Government]
Country Ghetto, J.J. Grey & Mofro (Alligator)-"You fall in love with a pig," Grey says, "and then one day your granddad knocks it in the head and bleeds it for butchering. You tend to grow up with a certain amount of realism in your life." That realism is reflected in the north Florida native's songs of pride and pain about Southern poor whites-"Turpentine," "Country Ghetto," "Mississippi." Grey is a rough but effective singer and the band is steeped in Southern roots music, especially blues and gospel. Added spice comes from the use of classic soul production touches, including plenty›of Norman Whitfield moves. Best of all is "Circles," a gorgeous Fender Rhodes-driven ballad that describes how the psychology of "he said/she said" destroys not just relationships but the entire world they take place in.
Hip Hop Is Dead, Nas (Def Jam)-Who else would set the title track to the klutzy riff from "Inna-Gadda-da-Vida"? Nobody in rap-hell, music-has a greater sense of drama, or a more complete sense of history, or a greater sense of mission. Granted, it's not all as focused as its core ("You Can't Kill Me" through "Black Republican"). But the clarity, intensity of that core, on a major label release, makes this hip-hop of a very high order, indeed.
An Other Cup, Yusuf (Atlantic)-The world according to the former Cat Stevens (the former Stephen Georgiou) hasn't changed all that much since Tea for the Tillerman despite his long public silence after conversion to Islam. Nor has his musical format. A little slick but still that fabulous voice and when did we ever have more need to hear emotional and reasonable arguments in favor of peace. No more theology than your typical Pete Townshend album.
Dulce Sodio, Vivanativa (Universal Latino)-As the album title, "sweet salt," suggests, this Puerto Rican Rock En Espanol band embraces its contradictions and uses them to set intimately personal songs in striking, universal spaces. So "Lagrimas," a grieving ballad that literally sounds like a rainy day (something in the snare and organ), finds a natural path to the grandeur of a Beatlesque anthem. Then, the rebirth rocker that follows, "Volver a Empezar," manages to be both propulsive and prowling at the same time while finding its way to a quiet bridge that sounds more like a leap between planets. Though only "Gypsy," a sweetly voiced rocker with a nasty edge, is sung in English, no one needs words to feel music this vivid.
Release Therapy , Ludacris (Disturbing Tha Peace/Def Jam)-On "Grew Up A Screw Up," Luda does what no one else does near so well„he uses one of the most musically compelling voices in rap to be boastful and self deprecating at the same time, casually funny yet exposing the system's bottom line.›Win at the game, go "from alright to handsome, from one room to mansions" and "from broke as a joke to rich as a bitch."›The point is building unity with the majority left behind whether they are "all my peoples in the pen" on "Do Your Time" ("don't let your time do you" he urges) or the young women tossed to the streets in the gorgeous prayer woven with Mary J. Blige on "Runaway Love."›Without sacrificing his trademark playfulness, Ludacris has risked a deeply spiritual statement here, making the aim explicit with the closer "Freedom of Preach," a tag team sermon with Bishop Eddie Lee Long that manages to place the divine right where it belongs-in the ties that bind a community together and inspire the individual to stand up for his or her own value.
Consigliere, manSaveman (Chain Drive)-Seattle foursome is heavy and thick but not really in that city's tradition (i.e. this is not an update of, say, Mudhoney). They have leanings toward classic rock and use a lot of vocal harmonies (including bassist Matilda Gromm) while wearing punk like an accessory. The main thing is the riffage-bold, unquenchable, impossible to deny.
Ten, Brian McKnight (Warner Bros.)-Using multi-tracking of his voice, McKnight coos and comments to himself so that he can convey his pledges of love, his feelings of heartbreak. It's somewhat like Marvin Gaye, only without the same level of artistic ambition. Then comes "Red, White, and Blue," a song a soldier in Iraq is singing to his wife and child back home. He lies to her ("I'm doin' fine here") before telling what seems to be the truth-his unit is absolutely united regardless of race, they don't think about what they are going to do, they just do it for their country. This might seem to be the antithesis of Marvin's "What's Goin' On" but there's something in McKnight's voice that suggests that as the soldier encounters betrayal abroad and even more so upon return, that love may turn from blind patriotism to true patriotism. The fact that this gorgeous power-pop ballad is a collaboration with the country band Rascal Flatts only raises the stakes.
We Love Ennio›Morricone (Sony Masterworks)-The greatest composer in film music history finally got an honorary Grammy and an honorary Oscar this year and a tribute album with an unusual talent lineup. Metallica›steals the show with its version of "The Ecstasy of Gold," and there are three other superb performances ("The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," in which Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones combine to invent the most stately fusion jazz ever; "Once Upon a Time in the West" with Bruce Springsteen contributing an entirely uncharacteristic guitar solo; and believe it or not Celine Dion's vocal on "I Knew I Loved You.") Maestro Morricone adds three of his own performances and there's one with Yo Yo Ma that feels like it is guided by the composer's own hand. As hauntingly beautiful as his best soundtrack albums.
Get On the Kit, Poogie Bell Band (Yuji Sound)-Meaty beaty big and bouncy-a quantum leap forward from last year's debut by Marcus Miller's Pittsburgh-based drummer. Fundamentally horn-driven jazz, this also brings in everything from scratching to ancient funky worm synths while Bell keeps a big foot in everyone's ass. Strong writing makes this more than a groove record and at peak power ("Creepin'," "Knickerbocker Bling") it will make your hair stand on end.
Some Bridges, Fred Martin and the Levite Camp (Concord)-The meeting ground of gospel soul with singer-songwriter heart creates the best Jackson Browne album in years and features the highly political leader of a fantastic gospel group. It's a Browne album because its best songs are classic Browne songs, from the opening "World in Motion/Yes We Can Can" to recastings of "Lives in the Balance," and "The Next Voice You Hear" that transport their politics into a whole 'nother dimension. Browne also co-produced the album with Martin and plays and sings on some tracks. But it's the gospel fervor and the intensely personal emotionalism of the whole project including Martin's own songs that make the album such a momentous experience. Lack of marketing (and failure to fit a format) have kept this record a secret but its ambition and accomplishment mean it begs for you to discover it on your own.
Happy Songs From Rattlesnake Gulch, Joe Ely (Rack 'Em)-"Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes" is probably the best Katrina song yet„scintillating rock & roll that speaks to needs of the body ("All my people need food and water") and spirit ("All my people need freedom and grace") while "Little Blossom" is a tender accordion-driven ode to the spirit of the Bayou which also feels like an Audrey Hepburn movie. Ely's storytelling gift is in full effect-on "Miss Bonnie and Mr. Clyde" he steals Bonnie from Clyde and they wind up making love in a barrel going over Niagra Falls. He's backed by a host of Austin's finest, including the great guitarist David Grissom on "July Blues," a meditation on summer heat waves ("My clock don't tick/And my dick don't rock").
Definition of a Circle, Otis Taylor (Telarc)-Amazing that this guy didn't make music for a couple decades because since he started up again in 1995, he's been one of the most inventive performers around. Here, besides his basic confessional blues, he revs up gospel soul with slashing electric guitar ("Something in My Back Pocket"), a piano-led ballad featuring trumpet and cello ("My Name is General Jackson"), and a rock song that reminds you he used to play with Tommy Bolin ("Love and Hesitation"). One of the great contemporary singer-songwriters, in truth.
Murder 4 Hire, Body Count (bodycount.com)-Ice-T remains a tough, smart social critic who knows exactly where the boundary between success and sell-out lies. His band's riffing is a little dated or maybe just worn down by decades of bullshit but "Dirty Bombs" brings the war home, and "Invincible Gangsta," "The End Game," and "You Don't Know Me (Pain)" keep it there. Ice-T and the gang are on our side of it, too.
Hysteria (Deluxe Edition), Def Leppard (Bludgeon Riffola/Mercury)-"It's not the recording-the thing that's taken so long is thinking about it," singer Joe Elliott told David Fricke in 1985, trying to explain why it took four years to create this hit-filled tour de force. That thinking was so important to this hard-living group of blue collar kids from Sheffield might not jibe with the hipster view of the universe, but attention to detail and to purpose always defined this band, captured here at their best and most consistent. There are›four B-sides added that are the shiny happy pop-metal equal of the A-side album tracks, plus an excellent half of a live album and several remixes notable for more dance touches, also not surprising in light of the fact that both Hysteria and its producer Mutt Lange were so influenced by Thriller-era Michael Jackson.
P.O.D. Greatest Hits: The Atlantic Years (Atlantic/Rhino)-They have consciously avoided being marginalized as "Christian rock" artists by refusing to record for Christian labels or to work the Christian market (making their anthems not just in the name of Jah but absolutely universal helps too). Musically, they go beyond the fairly polite confines of Christian hard rock by mugging the listener with surprise bursts of guitar gunfire, with gorgeous U-turns in the arrangements, and with the voice of›Sonny Sandoval, a skilled rock & roll shouter/growler. Loud, frantic, accessible-P.O.D. seems to be trying to pull us toward a destination they haven't quite defined themselves.
The Essential Collection, Dunice Theriot (Swallow)-Theriot, who passed away in 1990, was a professional fisherman in the Louisiana bayou who also led a band, composed mainly of his kids. Veering somewhere between Freddy Fender and Hank Williams, he delivered crisp, concise songs in English and Cajun French on subjects such as loneliness, prison, and "Living Cajun Style." Beyond the cotton curtain there's another, unnamed barrier that walls off southern Louisiana, and, on these sixteen 45s from his own Sportsman label, Theriot sings well enough to pierce it.
Trompeta Toccata, Kenny Dorham (Blue Note)-Recorded in 1964, this was trumpeter Dorham's last recording as a leader, the swan song of a Texan who came up in the big bands and in Charlie Parker's quintet. His notes extend and waver and talk to each other, especially on the title track, whose elegance never obscures its passion. Dorham's a fine composer as is tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson-his "Mamacita" probably would have become a soul-jazz classic if it weren't eleven minutes long.
Eat to the Beat: The Dirtiest of Dirty Blues (Bear Family)-Fabulous filth, highlighted by the hilarious X-rated version of Jackie Wilson and Lavern Baker's "Think Twice," "Don't Come Too Soon" by Julia Lee and Her Boyfriends, "Laundromat Blues" from the 5 Royales, Chick Willis's "Stoop Down Baby" and the Blenders' glorious doo wop "Don't Fuck Around with Love."
Here's Little Richard (Mobile Fidelity/Specialty)-"I came from a family where my people didn't like rhythm and blues," Little Richard said in 1970. "Bing Crosby, 'Pennies From Heaven,' Ella Fitzgerald was all I heard. And I knew there was something that could be louder than that, but I didn't know where to find it. And I found it was me." The first two Little Richard albums, collected here, aren't as loud as other music that exists today. But that doesn't change the essential truth that Richard's never merely loud„he adds maximum artistry which pumps up the volume even more. Every song here, even "By The Light of the Silvery Moon," promises to kick your ass and then, within fifteen seconds, does just that.
The Black Angel, Freddie Hubbard (Collectables)-It opens with the seventeen minute "Spacetrack," a mixed blessing experiment with interesting moments but one that often meanders. But it ends with "The Black Angel," "Gittin' Down," and "Coral Keys," three tunes on which trumpeter Hubbard, keyboardist Kenny Barron, and James Spaulding on alto and flute could each be leading the session. The songs are memorable and catchy, the empathy among the players borders on ESP, and Potato Valdes makes major contributions on percussion.
Live at Theresa's 1975, Junior Wells (Delmark)-Wells was a king because he said so but also because he unstintingly showered his subjects with the royal treasury of the blues. In a forty seat club, backed by Buddy Guy's brother Phil on guitar and a pickup band, this show is loose and occasionally ragged. What's most compelling isn't Wells's singing or harmonica playing but his command-of the room, of his place in the universe, of decades worth of blues songs stretching back to the acoustic music of Mississippi.
Surfer's Choice, Dick Dale and His Del-Tones (Sundazed)-Powered by reverb-mad guitar shredding and only barely separable from R&B and jump blues, Dale's 1962 first album made it seem like surfing existed just to create his audience. It also inspired frat bands everywhere to attempt to cover it, a chain of events which led to "Miserlou" being a linchpin of Quentin Tarentino's Pulp Fiction. "Shake N' Stomp" will make you do just that while you listen to the six bonus tracks which help flesh out the story.
Gold, John Coltrane (Hip-O)-In 1965, Coltrane said: "I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted." This double disc compilation is designed as an introduction to the music that verifies the tenor saxophonist's statement. It shows his way with standards and ballads, his prowess as a composer, his political side ("Alabama") and his Latin influences ("Afro Blue"), his African roots and his R&B training. Above all, it reveals Coltrane's spiritual searching, which was the biggest of the many doors he opened.
Just For a Moment, Ronnie Lane (www.ronnielane.com)-Beautiful, rollicking, folksy, wise, eminently hummable and occasionally a train-wreck, this was the life and music of Ronnie Lane, a genius of rock'n'roll and folk rock and Mod soul. Put together by friends in Texas who love him still, and a great primer for those who don't know him at all or think he was just the bassist in The Faces, not that that wouldn't be a heavenly credential by itself. "The Poacher," "Kuschty Rye," "One for the Road," "Barcelona," "April Fool," "Annie" and a batch of others here are the work of a major artist.
Gold, The Gap Band (Hip-O/Mercury)-They began at the top, sort of, serving as fellow Tulsan Leon Russell's backup band when he toured with the Rolling Stones and Elton John. Once on their own, The Gap Band began as a crack soul horn band ("Shake," "Open Up Your Mind") before narrowing down their sound to create the dance floor explosions that made them stars› ("Burn Rubber," "Early in the Morning," "You Dropped A Bomb on Me"). They also offered irresistible fully-realized ballads ("Yearning For Your Love," "Season's No Reason to Change") and were led through it all by the potent voice of Charlie Wilson, whose sound was often leering and carefree yet always utterly commanding.
Why Am I Treated So Bad?, Cannonball Adderly Quintet (Capitol Jazz)-At the end of a post-war era where jazz was no stranger to the jukebox, this followed› the massive 1966 hit album Mercy Mercy Mercy with the same funky, Fender Rhodes-oriented vibe. The playing is hardly watered-down-Cannonball's probing alto and his brother Nat's soaring cornet see to that. Highlights include keyboardist Joe Zawinul's tribute to Sonny Rollins, "One for Newk," and "I'm On My Way," written and arranged by Nat Adderly's eleven-year-old son Nat Jr.
The Definitive Collection, Humble Pie (A&M/Chronicles)-They bludgeoned the blues in pursuit of an elusive rock/soul synthesis but it worked due to band chemistry, because they mostly stayed focused on songs instead of solos, and because Steve Marriott had the kind of backwoods preacher intensity in his voice that British wannabes seldom attain. It all peaks on "Thirty Days in the Hole," a concise and absolutely perfect blast of rock & roll soul about doin' time and the pleasures that may make it worth the cost.
I Do Not Play No Rock and Roll, Mississippi Fred McDowell (Capitol)-Double disc set contains the complete 1969 sessions for the first McDowell recording where he used electric guitar. The amplification gives him more power and volume, true, but it's all about the subtleties this master guitarist draws from his axe, all the better to complement the slurred, delicious subtleties in his voice. He played this music in the fields, in the juke joints, and in church and it should be playing in your house tonight. It isn't just from Mississippi. It isn't just about Mississippi. It simply is Mississippi.
The Harmonizing Four 1943-1951 (Acrobat UK)-Two stunning discs by one of the greatest of all gospel quartets, captured during gospel's Golden Age. Highlights include definitive versions of "Every Time I Feel the Spirit," "Great Camp Meeting in the Promised Land," "Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown" and "King Jesus Will Roll All Burdens Away." If you like secular doowop you owe it to yourself to hear this, one of its prime source points.
The Definitive Pop Collection, Marshall Crenshaw (Rhino)-The core may be the pure ecstasy of found love and the pain of heartbreak but, just like those experiences in "real life," there are a lot of subtleties generated on sidebands by Crenshaw's music. He's a pop classicist who avoids formula and one of the least showy great guitarists ever. Above all, his music says: People are good, love is possible, everybody's looking, falling in love happens constantly, so let's make the best of it. Which is just what this collection (which includes several tracks from later Razor & Tie albums) will help you do.
OH WHAT A NIGHT...On a Monday night twenty-some years ago, Dave Marsh, Steve Van Zandt, and I made our way to the Village Gate in lower Manhattan for the weekly Salsa Meets Jazz show. That night it was Ruben Blades singing with flutist Dave Valentin's band. Blades came out in full effect„tossing off lines and stories and singing with a conviction that Valentin's band matched, if not always easily. Then, toward the end of the show, they launched into "Plastico." It began with a loopy disco riff, only to quickly morph into Willie Colon's gorgeous arrangement. As the song was ending, Blades started to name check the countries of Latin America, and after each one part of the crowd jumped deliriously to its feet to answer. Panama. "Presente!" Mexico. "Presente!" Puerto Rico. "Presente!" Cuba. "Presente!" Venezuela. "Presente!" Nicaragua sin Somoza."Presente!"
It was an electric moment, one whose thrill can nearly be re-created at home simply by purchasing the new Fania reissue of Siembra by Willie Colon & Ruben Blades. "Plastico" is the lead track and sets an impossible standard, yet "Pedro Navaja" and the title track come close.
A few years ago, Blades told a documentary filmmaker that he had deliberately avoided having a family in order to record and tour and give as much music to the world as possible. He didn't say this glibly, in fact he seemed pained by the admission. But as "Plastico" confirms, Ruben Blades is indeed part of a huge and loving family. We can only humbly thank our brother for a life well lived.-L.B.
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Thanks to: Cary Baker, Big O, Don Berns, Gary Burns, Rich Cooley, Davey D, Charles Everett, Rich Frank, Dave Leshtz, Gavin Martin, Sue Martinez, Omari, Phyllis Pollack, Jeffrey St. Clair, David Sandoval, Mike Stark, Fred Wilhelms.
Danny Alexander, Lee Ballinger
Cheryl Burns, David Cantwell, Walter Dunn, Jr., Ben Eicher, Carvell Holloway, Steven J. Messick, Luis Rodriguez, Daniel Wolff.