Categories
Artist Black Rock Funk

WILL IT GO ‘ROUND IN CIRCLES? – THE CONFLICTED LEGACY OF BILLY PRESTON

Billy Preston is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This is a rudimentary statement of fact—do with it what you will.

Strictly on the merits—nine-time nominated/two-time Grammy winning singer, songwriter, musician and side man for the most celebrated icons in all genres of American popular music—there is no question he should be in. Based on the incessant, catastrophic ephemera dogging his personal life even after death in 2006—and the arbitrary, political, “glamor, fame and money”-driven stewardship of that peculiar institution—he probably will never be.

Much has been made this past year of the 50th anniversary of the dissolution of The Beatles—as there is no aspect of Beatles minutiae that can be over-celebrated enough for fanatics, wonks and press minions, including the band’s rancorous split. Even Peter Jackson has been pressed into service for Meta Beatles Inc. The acclaimed director of ‘Lord of The Rings’ fame, taking nearly 60 hours of unreleased film shot for the infamously sullen documentary ‘Let It Be,’ reverse-engineered it into a more upbeat, user-friendly swan song, retitled ‘Get Back.’ The new doc gives greater weight to the fleeting life-affirming moments as the band grappled to find inspiration, fully aware this would be its last album and final days together.

Unbeknownst to the multitudes except the most astute Beatles fans and music aficionados, the keystone holding the band together long enough to survive those grueling sessions lay in the easy-going, cooler-than-the-other-side-of-a-pimp’s-pillow grin of a young, slender Black man who glides through scenes like a will o’ the wisp. The only time he assumes anything like gravity is when he’s seated behind the Fender Rhodes, supercharging the room with his effortless, graceful and visceral soul. The gazes of simultaneous relief, creative bliss, goofy joy, and unbridled awe are indelible on the faces of rock and roll’s greatest band.

They seem to say, “We may actually get through this Hell after all. Billy Preston has arrived.”

It’s still baffling why so many are still baffled William Everett Preston holds the righteous distinction of being one of maybe four people nicknamed “The Fifth Beatle.” Preston played on their last two albums (‘Abbey Road,’ and the final, ‘Let It Be,’ although ‘Abbey’ was released last). They’d been friends since 1962 when he was the touring organ player for Little Richard’s band and The Beatles were the opening act during their Hamburg, Germany residence grind. Seven years later, he proved to be glue keeping everything together after the band members declared they’d go their separate ways. After George Harrison quit for the third (or fourth) time and caught up with Preston at a Ray Charles concert (again, Preston touring as a side man and Charles’ protégé), Harrison invited him to join the sessions to defuse the stagnation and strain. He also joined the group in the legendary rooftop concert atop Abbey Road Studios.

At one point during these sessions, John Lennon, the band’s founder, actually asked Preston to join the band. And the only reason this virtually impossible whimsy—a real life Black Beatle—never came to fruition is because Paul McCartney, who was adamant on leaving the band based on the escalating discord and struggles just to function, put the kibosh on resurrecting it. In the years since The Beatles dissolved, he was a fixture in its legend, performing on solo projects for Harrison, Lennon and Ringo Starr, performing in Harrison’s benefit “Concert for Bangladesh,” appearing in the godawful film “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and was a regular in all-star Beatles tributes, including the memorial “Concert For George,” in 1992.

For this alone, never mind all the other landmark achievements in his career, Preston’s legend should be indisputably cemented in the pantheon of popular music. Yet, Billy Preston is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This is a rudimentary statement of fact—do with it what you will.

A self-taught child prodigy from age three born in Houston, raised as a gifted organist in the Los Angeles church system, grows into a venerated side man to rock music’s biggest stars and an award-winning artist in his own right. It’s a fool’s errand to attempt to capsulize the enormity of William Everett Preston’s career, a resumé so swollen with VIPs, by all rights it should collapse under its own weight: Mahalia Jackson, Nat King Cole, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert, The Everly Brothers, Reverend James Cleveland, Ray Charles, Count Basie, Miles Davis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, John Lennon, Sly Stone, Bobby Womack, King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Quincy Jones, The Brothers Johnson, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Jeff Beck, Joe Cocker, Tower of Power, Syreeta Wright, Donnie McClurkin, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, Elton John, Patti Labelle, Johnny Cash, The Funk Brothers, Steve Winwood, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Diamond, J.J. Cale, Toto, Donnie, The Band and Meshell Ndegeocello are just some of the luminaries Preston has played/written/sang with and/or for.

Strictly on the merits, Preston should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the highest pedigree short of its foundational charter inductees. That should have been the plan, anyway. But humans plan and God laughs. Largely because humanity is incapable, directly or indirectly, individually and collectively, and for the best and worst of all possible intentions, of avoiding sabotaging its own plans…

For all of Preston’s profound and abundant gifts, he was simultaneously beset in equal measure with profound tragedy, personal anguish and a penchant toward self-ruin. Piecing together the disparate threads of a tragic life, one finds a stellar professional career besieged with lifelong struggles between religious beliefs and sexuality, a traumatic end to a storybook love affair which spiraled into alcohol, drugs and repeated conflicts with the law, an aggressive indisposition to steward financial matters, and health problems—accelerated by addictions—which led to the kidney disease that ultimately claimed this once brilliant figure.

Further complicating the incongruity of Preston’s outsized accomplishments compared to his muted public fame, is the curse of being a musician’s musician, but not a bona fide star—an impeccable body of work, but not enough pop currency to stoke widespread adulation among the masses.

Thus, Billy Preston is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…

It has become such a hackneyed rock and roll cliché: the tragic genius, blessed and cursed with equal measures of divine attributes and hellish self-destruction, wrestling with crushing self-doubt in a milieu that gorges self-doubt by castigating excellence and championing mediocrity. Preston’s irrepressible acclaim and success could only be countermanded by his own inner torments with equivalent persistence, with a little help by outside forces beyond his control.

Preston’s tragedies were deeply intertwined with his talents. According to Preston’s manager, Joyce Moore in an interview with BBC News, he’d confided to her that at age nine, he went out on the road with his mother, Robbie Lee Williams, with a touring company of Amos ‘N Andy. He was sexually abused by the touring pianist. His mother—disbelieving him—failed to protect him and the torture continued the whole summer of the run. Preston was also later abused by a local pastor. By Moore’s account, the denial of his mother was more devastating to him than the violation itself or the fear of repercussions in the Black church, destroying his self-worth and haunting him the entirety of his career—he wrote the hit song “You Are So Beautiful,” as an homage to his mother.

As Preston’s star rose into his early 20s, he seemed to find happiness and stability. He was in high demand among the biggest stars in music and was hitting his stride as a feature performer. He’d even gotten engaged to actress/model Kathy Silva in the early 1970s. But, sadly, this relationship would be the lynchpin to his downward spiral: at the time Preston was working with longtime friend, Sly Stone (Sly did arrangements for Preston’s 1966 Capitol Records’ debut ‘Wildest Organ in Town!’). The two were collaborating on several projects, including Stone’s dark masterpiece, There’s A Riot Goin’ On. During this period, however, the one-time apex pop genius had morphed into a paranoid, erratic, hedonistic, drug-addled, irrational ne’er-do-well. One fateful day, Preston returned to his home to discover Stone in bed with Silva (the two later infamously married on stage at Madison Square Garden). The affair triggered Preston to stop having relationships with women and begin abusing cocaine and having sex with male partners exclusively.

Complicating matters even further, Preston resisted taking any responsibility for his fiscal well-being, according to many close to him. He was routinely swindled out of millions by managers, agents, and accountants throughout his career. He worked consistently, but saw little reward from the success he’d achieved. A lull in hits in the mid-to-late 70s spurred him to leave A&M Records after seven years to sign with Motown, which yielded the 1979 duet with Syreeta, “With You I’m Born Again.” But he wouldn’t have any other hits at the House That Berry Built and his solo career stalled in the 80s, largely as a result of alcohol and cocaine (later crack) abuse. He focused on session work and touring as a side man, but, by the 90s, he was having regular conflicts with colleagues, sleepwalking though gigs and running afoul of the law.

According to reports from the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press, Preston was convicted on DUI charges in August 1991. But while on probation, he was arrested for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old male, a Mexican day laborer. The teen alleged Preston took him to the singer’s Malibu home, was given cocaine to smoke, was shown pornographic materials, then fought off an attempted sexual assault before he escaped. During the investigation, it was discovered Preston attempted assault with a daily weapon the previous day against another laborer he picked up, and he was additionally charged. After submitting to a drug test, Preston tested positive for cocaine. He entered no contest pleas to the cocaine and assault charges while the sex charges were dismissed. He was sentenced to nine months in a drug rehab center and three months of house arrest.

The Times further reported that in 1992, Preston was sentenced to 30 days in jail for another DUI conviction which violated his 1991 probation. At some point later, he was placed on three years’ probation after testing positive for cocaine, but in 1997 was sentenced to three years in prison for cocaine possession. While in jail in 1998, he was indicted for a $1-million insurance fraud scam for setting fire to his Los Angeles home. He pled guilty and testified against his co-conspirators. His plea called for five years’ probation, one year in jail and $60,000 in restitution—his probation and jail time ran concurrent with his 1997 possession conviction.

By the start of the 2000s, Preston tried to get his feet back under him, but once more his circumstances, his better judgment and, finally, his body began to betray him. He pressed forward and continued working, but drugs were still ever-present. He suffered kidney disease brought on by hypertension and received a kidney transplant in 2002. But even after this precarious surgery, Preston continued to abuse narcotics. In the span of a year (2005), he lost the three most important people in his life: his mother, his good friend George Harrison and his mentor Ray Charles. Seeking escape from Los Angeles, he moved to Scottsdale, AZ to live with his manager Joyce Moore (manager and wife of R&B legend Sam Moore). According to Moore, Preston was poised for a significant comeback in 2006, but he nearly died from an adverse reaction to dialysis after binging on crack all night after a press party.

Determined to get clean, Preston checked into a Malibu rehab clinic, but suffered pericarditis, leading to respiratory failure that left him in a coma in November 2005. Still comatose, he was returned to Scottsdale and, according to multiple sources, was shuttled around different Arizona hospitals—never regaining full consciousness. He died on June 6, 2006.

Even the matter of Preston’s death and estate—almost fittingly—wasn’t resolved until nearly a decade after his passing. According to reports from The Houston Press and OC Weekly, he declared bankruptcy twice in 1997 (the year of his insurance fraud conviction). His manager, Moore, spent a decade fighting the case, mostly pro se, contending the firm that filed on his behalf had no authority to do so and that the filing was unwarranted because the income Preston’s company, Preston Music Group Incorporated, was sufficient to cover the singer’s debts. A $2-million settlement was finally reached in January of 2016.

The bankruptcy matter was complicated by legal battles between Preston’s family and Moore. According to several news reports, on one side, the family—led by sisters Rodena and Lettie Preston—accused Moore of isolating the singer from his family and seizing control of his life, career and assets. They accused Moore of abandoning Preston and leaving him at the mercy of the hospital system, allowing his bills to rack up, and that he was unrecognizable in what few visits the family could manage. In an item by the St. Louis American Rodena was awarded temporary conservatorship on March 8, 2006 and granted access to the singer and his medical records. The family spent ten years, unsuccessfully, to revoke Preston’s Trust.

On the other side, Moore contended Preston broke from his family and didn’t want them involved in his affairs. Although he had no property, he moved to Scottsdale, AZ and was no longer living in California. He disinherited them from his will in 2004 and his 1999 probate avoidance trust. A report by music columnist Roger Friedman shows a probate court filing from Rodena Preston declaring conservatorship on June 3, 2006 over his estate—Preston didn’t die until three days later (June 6) and a death certificate is required for any probate filing. Lettie was never named as a beneficiary in Preston’s trust and was never entitled to any portion of the estate. In the end, the judge presiding the case determined the bankruptcy Trustee would uphold Preston’s Trust and the family would not be entitled to any money or property.

Nearly to his death, the only people who knew of Preston’s homosexuality were his closest friends and colleagues, only coming out, according to Moore, in a group therapy session towards the end of his life. Despite his 1991 sexual assault arrest, it was a guarded secret, threatened only on rare occasions. In a 1962 book, a German bodyguard for musicians touring Hamburg, asserted Little Richard had proclaimed the organist was his tour boy toy, an accusation Preston vehemently denied. It was alleged in some local L.A. celebrity circles that he cruised day laborers or Soul Train dancers. A band member spoke in an Unsung interview about a regular boyfriend Preston had on the road with him.

Moore reportedly told the singer after coming out in therapy that he was now free from the weight that kept bringing him into the depths of destruction. Ironically, that would be their last conversation before Preston’s poor health took him down the final corridor…

Perhaps key to the conundrum of Billy Preston is he was a prisoner of his time. Had he been born, say, 25-30 years later—when the Black church became more enlightened and accepting of its LGBTQ flock, and with greater support systems in general for the LGBTQ community and a much less hostile environment overall, perhaps there would have been coping mechanisms available to him. He might have emerged a more gratified person. As it was, the rigidity and intolerance of the Bible and the church being the constants in his life, he was burdened with shame and no outlets but self-abuse.

Then again, had Preston been born in a later time, it would have been impossible for him to accomplish all he achieved.

To put it all in context, his career spanned almost the entire history of rock and roll music through the beginning of the 21st Century, and he was one of only a few figures who remained musically relevant the entire time. He accompanied Mahalia Jackson at an L.A. church at age ten. At eleven, he performed a duet of “Blueberry Hill,” with Nat King Cole on his short-lived variety show and in the film bio of W.C. Handy, with Nat in the starring role and Preston playing Handy as a boy. Before he turned 30, he played with damn near every zenith artist in damn near every popular genre of music, including being the only premiere musician to play with both the top rock bands out of the British invasion in their prime—the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. He recorded Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, before Harrison made it a big hit.  Preston and Janis Ian were the first-ever musical performers on the first-ever episode of Saturday Night Live. Dick Clark used Preston’s “Space Race” as a mid-show instrumental break for “American Bandstand,” from the mid-70s to until the end of the program’s run. Miles Davis—one of the last century’s unparalleled music visionaries—composed the piece, “Billy Preston,” for the ‘Get Up With It’ album, in honor of the in-demand musician.

As it stands, Billy Preston’s portfolio may never get the posthumous reexamination it richly deserves. According to a 2019 item in the New York Times, he was one of over 700 artists on Universal Music Group (including Chess, Decca, MCA, Geffen, Interscope, Impulse! and other subsidiary labels) whose master tapes were destroyed in the infamous 2008 fire in the backlot of Universal Studios, Hollywood. UMG disputed the Times’ claim, though, its own position is unclear: Vault manager Randy Aronson estimated over half a million tracks were damaged or destroyed, while UMG archivist Patrick Kraus asserted only 424 assets by 19 artists were damaged or destroyed. A 2019 class action lawsuit was dismissed April 2020 and there is still no independently confirmed survey of the total number of music assets that were damaged or destroyed.

But then, considering all of the cruel twists of happenstance in Billy Preston’s career, this final incident seems par for the course. So, unless some other such quirk of fate intervenes, he will in all likelihood, ever remain a footnote in rock and roll history, perhaps one of the most indelible, most frequently cited, most accomplished footnotes ever, but just a footnote, nonetheless.

William Everett Preston is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Strictly on the merits, there is no question he should be in. Based on the catastrophic ephemera dogging his life, he probably will never be.

This is a rudimentary statement of fact—do with it what you will.

For what it’s worth, here’s this writer’s take:

Yes, Billy Preston’s misfortunes were almost entirely self-inflicted. He needed to take ownership of his behaviors and did so much too late. But, all things considered, the only person Billy Preston ever truly hurt was himself. There are celebrated Rock and Roll Hall of Famers of decidedly more malevolent character.

The triggers that set Preston down his tragic course have accounts still in arrears: the mother in denial who failed to protect her son; the fiancé and colleague who betrayed their friend’s trust; the church that condemned the love Preston sought validation in; the enablers and exploiters who preyed upon Preston’s good will. Again, too late for any reparation on this front and those who’ve wronged Preston and survived, lack the integrity to make amends, even posthumously.

But one thing that can most definitely happen is all of the artists and estates of artists who have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—many of whom have expanded their legends on the strength of Preston’s invaluable contributions—can certainly flex their collective muscle with the Hall’s board of directors and ensure his enshrinement within their ranks.

Failing that, without William Everett Preston, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame really isn’t worth the brick and mortar used to build it. The Hall of Famers who pimped Preston’s work, but still won’t elevate his legend, were never worthy of his talents nor the space they occupy in that building. In fact, the only thing “rock and roll” about that peculiar institution—like the Cleveland-based White disc jock who cribbed the style of Black DJs and slapped a label on a style of music born at least five years earlier—would be the perpetual exploitation of Black talent for White advantage and promotion.

This is this writer’s considered opinion—do with it what you will.

Categories
Artist Black Rock Funk

Shuggie Otis, Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love, Lost and Found

 

 

Quickie Album Review: Shuggie Otis “Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love”

Inspiration Information/Wings Of LoveQuickie Album Review: Shuggie Otis “Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love”

Funk/Soul/Blues/Jazz/Pop/Electronica/Peace & Love

This is a GREAT album. I have been waiting for this album to appear since the mid 1970’s. It’s the best album I have heard so far in 2013.

The original “Inspiration Information” has actually been a key influencing factor in my thought processes and behavior since I first listened to it in 1974. Since that time I have probably listened to it more than any other single album I have ever owned, with the possible exception of Miles Davis “On The Corner.” To this day, people who know me well (including “Mrs. Earthjuice”) are quite literally sick of me talking about “Inspiration Information.” I consider it one of the defining pieces of pure artistry that I have ever encountered in my life and I return to it over and over again when I feel lost. It helps me to “re-calibrate,” in almost a religious way. (how’s that for obsessive behavior…..LOL)

And it’s not because of the music itself.

It is also about the persona of Shuggie Otis himself, his artistic genius, his relative youth at the time and how his “lost potential” seems to be a metaphor for other “geniuses” that I knew growing up. I want for Shuggie Otis (and all of the other young geniuses, that I have known in my life) to live up to their potential to change the world for the better.

The album is an impressive 2 disc set:

Disc 1 – Contains the original 9 tracks from the “Inspiration Information,” the “genreless acid drenched one man band album” which consists of all “genres” that have memorized me for the better part of the past 35 years and is literally the “Rosetta stone” for late 20th century Black music. It also contains 4 “bonus” tracks that apparently were considered for the original album, but didn’t make the cut.

Disc 2 – Contains a collection of songs that Shuggie Otis recorded between the mid 1970’s – 2000’s that have never been released before.

Great liner notes, rare photos, & more

DISC 1 – INSPIRATION INFORMATION – BONUS TRACKS

I am not going to review the original “Inspiration Information.” I have reviewed it many times and I don’t want to repeat myself. If you have any interest whatsoever in the human condition of 20th century earthlings, IMHO you should own this album.

Here are some quickie reviews of the 4 bonus tracks:

10. “Miss Pretty” (Recorded in 1971)

Sounds like: Sounds like: Early 70’s Pop/Funk – Sly Stoneesque

11. “Magic” (Recorded in 1971)

Sounds like: Sounds like: Early 70’s Pop/Funk – Sly Stoneesque

12. “Things We Like To Do” (Recorded in 1977)

Sounds like: Sounds like: Late 60’s Pop/Soul/Jazz – Chicago/Blood Sweat & Tearsesque (Sans Horns)

13. “Castle Top Jam” (Recorded in 1971)

Sounds like: Sounds like: Late 60’s Acid drenched Blues/Funk/Rock – Sly Stone/Steve Miller Bandesque

DISC 2 – WINGS OF LOVE

This is what I have been waiting for all of these years. This is an album that is filled with GREAT music, never before heard. These songs have little if anything to do with the original “Inspiration Information” album. A half dozen or so of these songs (“Special,” “Tryin’ To Get Close To You,” “Doin’ What’s Right,” “Wings Of Love,” “Don’t You Run Away,” “Fireball of Love,” “Fawn,” “Destination You!”) would have been hit records, had they been released on major labels during the period when they were recorded. Listening to these songs today, make the original “Inspiration Information” seem like just what it was. An experimental album constructed by a “genius mad scientist,” simply because he could. This collection of previously unheard songs sound like they come from someone who now has totally perfected the whole “one man band” thing, is ready to unleash all of that knowledge into the commercial marketplace. Why Shuggie was never given the opportunity to release these songs to the public, continues to be a mystery and open to lots of speculation. However I’m glad to finally be able to hear them today.

As you look at my quickie reviews of these songs below, pay close attention to the dates they were recorded and the music I am suggesting a similarity with. In many cases, Shuggie is actually “channeling” these artists long before we ever heard of them!! In other cases you can certainly hear who some of his influences were. If you like the artists that I am making the comparisons with, then you will also like “Wings of Love.”

1. “Intro”

Sounds like: 4 second of ‘audience sounds” from a live show

(a waste of space)

2. “Special” (Recorded in 1980)

Sounds like: Mid 80’s Pop/Funk – Princesque

3. “Give Me Something Good” (Recorded in 1977)

Sounds like: Mid 90’s – Early 2000’s Neo Soul – D’Angeloesque

4. “Tryin’ To Get Close To You” (Recorded in 1976)

Sounds like: Late 70’s Pop/Funk – Brothers Johnsonesque

5. “Walkin’ Down The Country” (Recorded in 1977)

Sounds like: 1960’s Pop Ballad – Johnnie Mathisesque

6. “Doin’ What’s Right” (Recorded in 1975)

Sounds like: Mid 70’s Social Message – MFSB/O’Jays/Gamble & Huffesque

7. “Wings Of Love” (Recorded in 1990)

Sounds like: Reflective Slow Jam – Rick James/Urban Rapsodyesque

8. Give Me A Chance (Recorded in 1987)

Mid 80’s eMpTVyish Power Pop Ballad – Luther Vandross/Phil Collinseque

9. “Don’t You Run Away” (Recorded in 1987)

Sounds like: Mid 90’s – Early 2000’s Neo Soul – D’Angeloesque

10. “Fireball of Love” (Recorded in 1977)

Sounds like: Mid 70’s Stone Cold Monster Phunk – Billy Preston/Prince/Eddie Hazel/Johnny Guitar Watson/Graham Central Stationesque

11. “Fawn” (Recorded in 1977)

Sounds like: Monster Wett Dreamy 1970’s Slow Jam – Delfonics/Stylistics/Blue Magic/Denise Williams/Laura Nyroesque

12. “If You’d Be Mine” (Recorded in 1987)

Sounds like: Mid 80’s eMpTVyish Power Pop Ballad – Luther Vandross/Phil Collinseque

13. “Black Belt Sheriff” (Recorded in 2000)

Sounds like: Live Acoustic Blues/Folk Cut

14. “Destination You!” (Recorded in 1975)

Sounds like: Early 70’s Pop/Funk – Sly Stoneesque

I have listened to this album 3 times, since it arrived in my mailbox and each time I discover more and more to like about it. So I’ll leave it here for now, simply because I am positive that I will be writing about it again. It is by far the best album I have heard in 2013.

PS – If you would like to compare the “Wings of Love” album to a modern day artist, check out an artist named “SonnyBoy” His music is also “genreless,” yet also encompasses all “genres” at the same time.

–Bob Davis

609-351-0154

earthjuice@prodigy.net

Co-Founder www.soul-patrol.com

 

 

Shuggie Otis Lost

What would you say about an artist who sounds like:

Stevie Wonder, Geroge Benson, Sly Stone, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Mike Olefield, Grover Washington Jr Billy Preston, Funkadelic, Quincy Jones, Meters, Elton John and BB King ALL AT THE SAME TIME?

Well, let me tell you a little bit about him!

Normally I don’t like to write about artists who are obscure, because i don’t like to discuss music that people have never heard or are unlikely to ever hear, I mean…..what’s the point?

But please indulge me this one time?

Many times since the creation of Urban Sounds, people have asked me who my favorite FUNK artist is and I have always refused to answer the question, today I’ll answer that question!

Because I am about to tell you all about a truly GREAT FUNK artist!

Shuggie Otis put out two fantastic albums during the 1970’s

· “Freedom Flight” – 1971

· “Inspiration Information” – 1974

When the album “Inspiration Information” came out in 1974, I became aware of it as a result of hearing the single “Inspiration Information” on radio station WAMO in Pittsburgh. I liked the catch/bouncy beat and the positive groove of the “Stevie Wonderish” song.. I immediately went out and purchased the album and took it back to my dormitory room to listen to it. This album completely BLEW me away as I listened to it in the “black light and incense filled room”. This album is difficult to describe except to say that it sounded like a combination of ALL of the artists I mentioned earlier and then some.

You see, this music is impossible to place into a category it’s:

Blues + Jazz+ Rock n Roll+Soul

All blended together, held together by a “glue” that turns out to be a message that sticks with me to this day! It’ got both lyrics and a beat that can only make one think of good times and a positive future, filled with hope and free from despair. Needless to say, I listened to the album over and over again till I couldn’t stay awake any longer.

The next day, I played this album for a few of my friends and they also had their minds BLOWN AWAY by it. Soon the album became a favorite among the crowd I hung around with at that time . See not only was the music GREAT, but everyone was totally amazed because not only did Shuggie Otis play EVERY instrument on the album, write EVERY song, but he also was just NINETEEN years old at the time!

In other words he was some kind of musical prodigy!

A few months later I saw the album “Freedom Flight” in the record store and picked up on it as well. This album was just as FUNKY as “Inspiration Information, but a bit less experimental. Ever hear the song “Strawberry Letter #23” – Brothers Johnson? That song was a remake of the original, written by Shuggie Otis, which appears on the album “Freedom Flight”. Soon after I had purchased “Freedom Flight” , I listened to it (in that very same “black light and incense filled room”), that I had listened to “Inspiration Information”. This music was certainly powerful and the messages contained were striking, just by looking at the album titles you can see what the message is.

Shuggie Otis abruptly “retired” from the music business a few years later at the age of 22 years old. I “lost” my copies of BOTH albums years ago. To this day whenever I go to a record store, the first thing that i do is go to the “O” section and look to see if either one of these two albums has ever been reissued on Compact Disc. Of course I have never found either one. Most likely Shuggie Otis music will probably NEVER be reissued on CD. He wasn’t a big hitmaker and I don’t suppose there is much of a demand for his stuff .

–Bob Davis: (1996)

2005 Update A lotta bad stuff has been happening lately around the corner and around the world. In fact, based on what we have been watching on TV for the past week it almost looks as though we have indeed reached “the last days in time”.

Sometimes even I have to just tune it all out, because if I don’t I will lose perspective. At times like these I reach for Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time.

It’s a document of lyrical and musical genius that still resonates in my mind 31 years after the first time that I heard it.

If I were a “black music expert” working for an entity like Rolling Stone Magazine I might say something like this about the album Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information…

“It’s the bridge between Sly and the Family Stone and Prince..”

But I’m not, nor will I ever be, so instead I’ll simply talk about this album from my own perspective…

No matter what my mood or how bad things might seem to be at that particular moment this album never fails to make me smile. Perhaps it’s just nostalgia? Or perhaps it’s just the expression of pure joy that this music brings to me. It was in it’s time one of the most cutting edge and experimental albums ever made. Back in 1974 it was kinda the “drugged out, ultimate freak out”. Listening to it today 21 years later it’s tame, hardly “cutting edge” at all. Today Inspiration Information almost sounds like it could be used as the soundtrack for a show on Nickelodeon or some other childrens programing, perhaps that’s why it makes me feel good?

Sometimes when an artist seems to disappear before their time, it feels like they have missed an opportunity to make the impact that they could have made. Even worse is that it sometimes makes us feel as individuals that we have also missed out on something, we often feel so exhilarated by their genius that we may even fell cheated by the artist.

Certainly these are some of the types of feelings that I have felt in my heart about Shuggie Otis over the years. Sometimes I have even selfishly cussed him out for depriving me of more of himself.

However today as I sit here in 2005 listening to Inspiration Information, once again for the 12 gazilionth time in my life I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is that this album actually exists and once again it’s available to me, to put a smile on my face whenever I need one.

I don’t know how Shuggie Otis feels about all of this. I have never spoken with him. I suspect that he must be on an emotional roller coaster about Inspiration Information, damn near every day of his life and I’m sure that ride must be extremely painful for him to take every day.

However I think that he needs to know that in creating this album, its enough of a legacy of his vision that it will last long after he leaves this earth and that certainly that for a certain fan of his, located on the east coast of the United States and I’m sure for many others who are down, he can rest assured that his influence is major and far reaching into the future. Today in 2005 I see and hear the influence of Inspiration Information all around me. Lots of artists who are associated with Soul-Patrol (ex: SonnyBoy, Martha Redbone, Stozo, etc) are “direct descendents” and are “inspired” by the “information” contained in this album. So their music continues the thought process and expands it in a way that Shuggie Otis probably never even imagined back in 1974.

So for that I am happy, because if there was ever a thought process that we needed here in 2005, as we try to deal with both the physical, emotional and spiritual realities of what may indeed be “the last days in time”, the perspective of Inspiration Information is something we can still absorb to serve the purpose of keeping us whole. My endearing hope as I sit here listening to Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information once again for the 12 gazilionth time in my life is that, you will take the time to listen it at least once?

It’s the ultimate expression of a thing that existed for just a relatively short moment in time during the 1970’s, where all of it came together, under the umbrella of “peace and positivity”. At the time it felt like something that would last forever, but ultimately it would prove to be fleeting. However fleeting that feeling ended up being in terms of influencing the masses, ultimately it lives on in the hearts and minds of people who know that “peace and positivity” really is the only way and that life itself therefore must become a restless search for bringing the truth of “peace and positivity” to your heart and to your mind.

And that my friends is one hell of a legacy for Shuggie Otis to have created….

NP: Happy House

–Shuggie Otis

 

Shuggie Otis Found at Joe’s Pub in NYC

imageimage

Just got back from seeing the great Shuggie Otis perform live at the [re-]release party for his classic 1974 album, “Inspiration Information”

(Luaka Bop), at Joe’s Pub in NYC. Although there had been some concern among the staff at his label as recently as last week as to whether Shuggie would in fact perform tonight, he pulled it off and it was incredible!

Following on the heels of Tuesday night’s fine performance of Shuggie’s “Strawberry Letter 23” on Conan O’Brien (he will perform on David Letterman’s show on Friday night), Shuggie took the stage promptly at 9 p.m. (after a brief introduction by Luaka Bop honcho David Byrne) for a one-hour set of blues and soul classics and a couple of original tunes from the “Inspiration” CD.

Backed by guitarist Jimmy Vivino from the Late Night band (AKA the “Max Weinberg 7”), younger brother Nicky on drums, and a bassist and keyboard player, Shuggie began his set with Freddie King’s classic blues instrumental, “Hideaway.” This was followed by another 12-bar blues, at which point I began to worry that we might not get to hear any of Shuggie’s own brilliant compositions.

This fear was quickly allayed by the next number, a SMOKING version of the aforementioned “Strawberry Letter 23.” After a somewhat oblique introduction during which Shuggie attempted to explain the background of the song, they launched into the tune (complete with the famous glockenspiel part played on the keyboard), Shuggie and Jimmy Vivino playing the same guitar lead simultaneously, recreating Shuggie’s studio overdubs. This song was the highlight of the set, and had the audience up on their feet and cheering.

“Strawberry Letter 23,” probably Shuggie’s most famous composition, by virtue of the Brothers Johnson’s 1977 hit version, is included on the “Inspiration Information” CD, even though it originally appeared on Shuggie’s first album, 1971’s “Freedom Flight.” Three other songs from that album are also included on the CD, including the mind-blowing title track, a 13-minute guitar opus a la Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain.”

It should be noted, with all the rumors about Shuggie’s health and low profile for the past 25 years, that he both looks and sounds just great. We spoke for a couple of minutes, and he appeared fit and content in a fashionable dark grey suit, and could easily pass for quite a bit younger than his 48 years. And his guitar playing was as astounding and fluid as ever. This guy’s just gearing up for his second career – watch out!

The next number after “Strawberry” was a rousing version of Sly’s “Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again),” the band occasionally sounding a bit under-rehearsed, but their enthusiasm more than compensating for the rough edges. At several points during the set Shuggie told the audience how happy and grateful he was to be back performing this material, and it was obvious he really WAS pleased to be there, 27 years after “Inspiration Information” was first released. With so few happy endings in the music biz, it was nice to witness one unfolding right in front of our eyes.

After another blues, “I Just Wanna Make Love To You,” the band left the stage for a moment, before Shuggie and Nicky returned for a duet version of “Ice Cold Daydream,” which originally appeared on Shuggie’s first album, 1971’s “Freedom Flight. It was a fine ending to a great night.

When “Inspiration Information” was originally released by Epic in 1974, it quickly slipped off the radar. Shuggie was eventually dropped from the label, and his subsequent disillusionment with record company politics led to a 25-year absence from the spotlight, although he continued to perform with his father, legendary bandleader Johnny Otis. But in recent years “Inspiration Information” has been cited by many influential DJ’s and musicians as a “lost classic,” leading David Byrne to reissue it in March to universal acclaim from the likes of Rolling Stone, Vibe, Spin, and countless others. I guess sometimes an artist just has to wait for the world to catch up with his genius. At least in this case we are fortunate that Shuggie is alive and well and enjoying the belated and much-deserved attention.

I only hope that the exposure being afforded Shuggie now as a result of the album’s reissue, and the media blitz surrounding it, enables him to both revive his career where he left off in 1974, and to reach an audience far wider than the one which initially greeted this brilliant and singular work.

Special thanks to Bob Davis of Soul Patrol (www.soul-patrol.com) for turning me on to Shuggie and “Inspiration Information,” Jonathan Rudnick and Maurice Bernstein of Giant Step for a beautiful job promoting the record and the party, and Jeff Kaye of Luaka Bop for the guest list hookup and gracious response to my queries about Shuggie. Finally thanks to David Byrne for reissuing this gem, and of course to Shuggie Otis for creating it and being so patient!

Way to go Shuggie!

Peace,

–David Leifer (DL on the dl: 2001)





Categories
Artist Black Rock

Review – Live in Maui – Jimi Hendrix Experience

As a Jimi Hendrix enthusiast, I’m always excited to receive either new Hendrix music that I have never heard before, or re-mastered music of lower quality bootlegs. I spent most of the late 90’s and early 2000’s building up my Hendrix collection. In addition to the music, I’ve always enjoyed when Experience Hendrix includes a documentary with the music. So, when it came time to receive my Live in Maui 2 CD and Blu-Ray package on Friday, I was looking forward to expanding my knowledge of Jimi from a sonic standpoint, as well as from a scholarly standpoint. I must say, I was disappointed with the overall product. For the purpose of this review, I’ll break it down into four categories: Liner Notes, Documentary, Concert video footage, and the 2 CDs.

Liner Notes: I was disappointed in the last liner notes that I read on Songs for Groovy Children. I wasn’t expecting much this time, but even with lowered expectations, I was still disappointed. The liner notes were written by Jeff Slate, but I read them first before even seeing who wrote them. I have no idea who he is or why he was chosen, but his subtle jabs at the Band of Gypsys and Buddy Miles immediately turned me off to his writing. His first cardinal sin was to think that the Cry of Love was Jimi’s follow up to his 1968 Classic, Electric Ladyland. Any decent Hendrix fan knows that the Band of Gypsys was the true follow up and the last album that Jimi oversaw in the studio. Smash Hits was a gap filler in 1969, the way that Sly’s Greatest Hits was for his albums, bridging Stand and There’s A Riot. Another rookie mistake was his point that the songs Freedom and Dolly Dagger were showcases for Jimi’s SOUL influence that he was “recently” starting to incorporate into his sound. If you want to really be blunt, Jimi has always incorporated soul into his music. That’s what set him apart.  Once again, a total disrespect to Jimi’s biggest splash into the realm of Soul, the Band of Gypsys. Mr. Slate goes on to insinuate that Billy Cox’s bass playing during this concert is an upgrade from what he did in the Band of Gypsys. ANOTHER FARCE!!! Although minor, another sly comment was Slate referring to Mitch Mitchell as Jimi’s “FAVORITE DRUMMER”. I never heard Jimi make that comment publicly, but since Jimi’s only known for playing with two main drummers, the off-handed comment, becomes another swipe at Buddy Miles. So for those reasons, I’m going to have to give the liner notes a grade of: D- (70).

Documentary: I had already seen how atrocious the Rainbow Bridge movie was and I was also familiar with all the kooky characters, including Chuck Wein, the director. What I was not prepared for was the long-winded diatribes from the interviews that constantly went on and on about not only Chuck Wein, but all these other ancillary characters that didn’t move the documentary along. They even added a verbose side bar about Andy Warhol, which quickly brought this documentary into the same realms as the movie. I quickly became bored and picked up my phone, while the documentary was still playing, and started posting on Facebook to kill time. The only Black guy interviewed was Billy Cox, and that was from footage in the 90’s. Judging from the poor image quality, you can tell that this documentary was started and then abandoned, only to be picked back up. Towards the end, as it focused more on Jimi Hendrix and the actual concert, it started to get better, but, by that time,  I was ready for it to mercifully end. I gotta give this documentary a grade of: F- (50).

Concert Video Footage: 
On the Blu-Ray, there were two videos of two different concert sets. The first set runs 38 minutes and features Jimi playing his traditional Stratocaster. It also contains one of my favorite Hendrix performances, In From the Storm. Jimi’s playing on this is energetic, frantic, and very soulful. He showcases all his training from the old Chitlin’ Circuit days, as he gets the crowd riled up and becomes one with his instrument. He creates sounds that have never been duplicated. There are many that claim to be able to play Hendrix “note for note”, but can you really call some of the sounds that he’s creating “notes”? They are more like “feelings” or “moods”. Seeing Jimi move up and down those scales on this song makes you forget that he couldn’t read music. The video footage of the concerts kept dropping out, as they would switch to still pictures. The cameras supposedly stopped, but the audio was still going. The second concert video runs for 33 minutes and features the typical Hendrix set list in the latter part of 1970. One thing that immediately stands out, is that he is now playing a Gibson Flying V guitar. A disappointing aspect of these two concert videos are the obvious off-beat dancing and lack-luster crowd interest. They may have been stoned, but many in the crowd were looking like zombies. The people that were moving and dancing were out-of-sync. I hope that it was poor editing and that they weren’t that devoid of rhythm. (I’m keeping my fingers crossed on that one.) This is a step up from the Rainbow Bridge movie, not only in image quality, but it doesn’t include those cheesy special effects. (No Star Trek Enterprise streaking across the screen, sorry Trekkies.) I give these two concert videos a grade of: B- (80)

2 Disc Maui Sets: 
Most of us know these songs from Jimi, so I’m not going to bore you by regurgitating what I heard. However, I’m noticing a disturbing trend when it comes to Jimi’s music that’s mixed by Eddie Kramer and mastered by Bernie Grundman. I’m noticing the bass by Billy Cox being brought down in the mix and Jimi’s guitar being pushed up. That’s not how Jimi wanted the mix on his last album that he was alive to produce, the Band of Gypsys. Is this new trend to appease hardcore Rock fans? It’s hard to say, but we’re quickly nearing the end of the line for Hendrix’s music. It’s really time to promote and market Jimi to a younger crowd. Other than the lowering of the bass, the crispness of the sound is excellent. I prefer to listen to my music in my car, where I can crank everything up. Jimi’s guitar playing is worth the price of admission on these CDs.  To be honest, the CDs were really the main reason why I purchased. I wish there were an option of buying the CD’s and not the Blu-Ray. With that being said, I give the two CDs a grade of: A-(90)

Corey Washington – Author/Hendrix Historian/Educator

Categories
Artist Black Rock Funk

Jimi Hendrix’s 50th Memorial Celebration in Seattle’s Central District and Beyond

As a historian, I am always keenly aware of important observances, anniversaries, and memorials concerning historical events of significance to me. One such event that I had marked on my mental calendar for the last 10 years, just came and went, the 50th memorial of the untimely death of Jimi Hendrix. Friday, September 18th, 1970 marked 50 years of not having Jimi Hendrix’s physical presence on this earth. It does not even feel like 50 years, because his impact and imprint are so ubiquitous. It feels like he is still among the living.

I knew that I wanted to be in Seattle for that weekend and made plans far in advance to be there. As a bonus, Jimi’s niece, Tina Hendrix, Leon’s daughter, was holding a three-day festival in Jimi’s honor. This took place at the Jimi Hendrix Park in Jimi’s old stomping grounds of Seattle’s Central District. I was able to attend all three days, although it rained profusely on Friday and parts of Saturday. Despite the rain and challenges of a global pandemic, the show went on, and overall, it was a memorable event.

On Friday, they featured the main musical guests of Juma Sultan, Marcus Machado, Randy Hansen, and Jimi’s little brother, Leon Hendrix. On Saturday, things were geared towards the youth, as multiple hip hop and R&B acts took the stage. On Sunday, it was a mix of acts that featured folk, rock, rap, and R&B. In addition to the music, there was also an African fashion show on Friday , which combined African drumming and dancing. All of these events, combined with sprinkles of mask compliance drama, made for a riveting three days in Jimi’s park.

I was able to sell my latest Jimi Hendrix book Jimi Hendrix Black Legacy and met quite a few interesting people. I met a lady that wanted to write a book on the black hippies of Seattle, as well as a young brother that wanted to produce a Jimi Hendrix documentary. Both of them brought my books and I pledged my support for both of their endeavors. I also went to Jimi’s old high school, Garfield, and donated a book to the Media Center . Although there were no kids there, I was able to meet up with the media specialist and a coach, which also resulted in a photo op.

Before all of the festivities, I was able to visit Jimi’s elaborate grave site on Thursday. I had been there at least three or four times before, so it was more of a reflex at this point. For some strange reason I never really felt that his body was on the premises, but rather, the whole setup was something for us to remember him via all the imagery on the marble , which includes his pictures and lyrics. I tried not to dwell on the fact that I know he was murdered, but it did creep into my mind every now and then.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Seattle, as I got to take in wisdom and knowledge from Juma Sultan (Woodstock percussionist), one of Jimi’s friends through thick and thin. We hung out for four days straight. A special highlight of my trip was getting to see some of Leon’s drawings of his brother at his daughter Tina’s house. That weekend, I also met Maishah Hendrix and her son. Maishah helped Tina to organize the event and was a calming influence on the whole weekend. It was great to see the Hendrix family come together to pay tribute to Jimi.  Another connection that I was excited to make was with Marcus Machado. He is a great young musical talent out of New York City, influenced by Jimi. Ever since I have discovered his music, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve heard. He made the trip with his sister and musical collaborator, Vicky Casis.

That is really what events like this are all about, meeting like-minded people influenced by Jimi, connecting with them, and enjoying great music. In essence, that is what Jimi was all about. He connects so many people through his music and life, which is one of the many facets that make him such a powerful force. Here is to the next 50 years of his influence !!!  

Categories
Artist Black Rock Funk

Concert Review – Living Colour Full Band FREE LIVE On Stage Webcast (10/24 at 8pm est)

History Lesson – Vernon Reid

In Africa, music is not an art form as much as it is a means of communication.
A Negro has got no name. Quite often, the words of the song are meaningless.
A Negro has got no name We are wearing the name of our master

Living Colour Online Concert – Sat 10/24/2020 8pm @ Ardmore Music Hall

Wow, what a show that I was fortunate to see last night. The online concert was free to the public, with the consideration to tip the band and venue. The last time I witness Living Colour live was September 3rd, 2017, when they played at City Winery in Chicago. ( and they rocked the place) What I witness tonight was a online live streaming concert, that took place at the Ardmore Music Hall, in Ardmore PA. This was more that just a live streaming concert. This was a concert with a important message. “Vote”, The Future Is Voting – Headcount, since we’re only 10 days away from Election Day.

This was first time that Vernon, Corey, Will and Doug have seen each other since March, when the pandemic shut down practically everything. The band definitely hasn’t missed a step. Lead singer Corey Glover steps to the microphone and says “Welcome to a evening of Jazz.” Corey chats with the small crowd in attendance and says “Let’s get rid of them”, and adds “There’s one way, “VOTE ! “

The band kicks off their set with “Middle Man”, from their debut album “Vivid”, and continues from there. Ranging from their extensive catalog of 30+ years, a unique mixture of rock, funk ,hip-hop, reggae, grooves, the band hasn’t missed a step. Corey and Vernon were joking around with each other during the first set, and a sample of the Amos and Andy character Kingfish blurs out “The Judge Is High As A Georgia Peach.” lol Corey was dressed quite dapper, during the both sets.

The second set, the band picks up where they left off, and rocked some more. It was pleasure seeing they can still turn a party out, even with the conditions of watching a band perform live during crisis of the pandemic. Most importantly, the message from the band was to vote. Special thanks to Ardmore Music Hall, and of course Living Colour.

Here’s the setlist from their performance:

First Set
Middle Man
The Wall
Freedom Of Expression (F.O.X.)
This Little Pig
Open Letter To A Landlord
This Is The Life
(Bassist Doug Wimbish played a bass solo that consisted of the Sam Cooke classic, “Bring It On Home To Me” )
Love Rears Its Ugly Head
Type
Time’s Up
James Brown’s Sex Machine, with the lyrical message to “Get On Up, And Vote”

Second Set
Sacred Ground
Pride
Funny Vibe
Desperate People
Auslander
Memories Can’t Wait
Which Way To America
Cult Of Personality
Solace Of You

–Gary Tyson: Host of wgfmradio.com – Saturday 4-7pm (ct) called “45s, Albums and CDs”

Editors Notes:

I also attended this show. One of the things that I love most in life is seeing a live show. There is something that I get from seeing an artist perform live that no studio recording, regardless of how well its done can duplicate. Each performance is both unique and spontaneous. Not to mention the “shared experience,” with the other folks that also saw the show.

If it’s an artist I have already seen before and enjoyed, there is always that possibility that they are going to out do themselves and I will get to witness something that is quite historic! Have you ever seen the groundbreaking Black Rock/Funk band Living Colour before? Their groundbreaking songs and videos from the 1980’s eMpTV era, was a big reason why I was able to make it thru the “musical cesspool” of the late 1980’s with my sanity 😊

Maybe you remember Living Colour from that time frame as well? Maybe you dug their videos on eMpTV as well? If you do you will remember how they exploded on the scene and literally changed how Black music was viewed in the mainstream, shocked the world and therefore changed American Culture!

I have had the good fortune to see the band perform live on many occasions in both NYC & Philly (Heck I even got to see them open for the Rolling Stones in 1988,) since that time and although they always “turn the sucka out,” I am happy for this next opportunity to see them once more.

This time however it was different.

it was from the comfort of my own home. I didn’t have to drive to NYC or to Philly. I didn’t have to buy any gas, pay any tolls, buy any overpriced drinks, or pay for parking. I didn’t have to buy my wife a new outfit (she is a Living Colour fan also) or pay for an overpriced “dinner for two,” before the show.

I figure that I easily saved at least $200 (if this show had been in Philly,) $300 (if this show had been in NYC!)

And guess what, Living Colour is still Living Colour and of course the still kick azz. This is the future yall (EMBRASE IT) — Bob Davis

Categories
Artist Black Rock Funk

Talkin Loud and Saying NOTHING: The GREATEST Rock n’ Roll Song of ALL Time?

“Talkin Loud and Saying NOTHING”

Q: How did you come to start playing Rock n’ Roll?

Little Richard: “My band the Upsetters was an R&B; band till I told them to start playing faster and faster and faster. The music was so fast that when people danced to the music they had to dance real fast, much faster than on a regular R&B; song that it came to be something different.”

Haven’t listened to this one in a while?
Crack that badd boy up and CRANK UP THE VOLUME

(of course you simply must clear some space in the room so you can spin around, split and avoid bumping into the furniture……lol)

While I am listening to this song, I can’t help but think of Little Richard’s statements about “architecting Rock n’ Roll”

Of course James Brown & the JB’s takes things to several level’s beyond on….
“Talkin Loud and Saying NOTHING”

� James Brown (vocals & GODFATHA)
� Bobby Byrd (co vocals/organ)
� Clayton “Chicken” Gunnels, Daryl “Hassan” Jamison (trumpets)
� Robert “Choper” McCollough (tenor sax)
� Phelps “Catfish” Collins, Hearlon “Cheese” Martin (guitars)
� William “Bootsy” Collins (bass)
� John “Jabo” Starks (drums)
� Johnny Griggs (congas)

Little Richard and the Upsetters didn’t have nothin on the JB’s

Not only are the JB’s playing SUPER FAST on this song, but James Brown (the architect of some kinda damn music that we STILL can’t name properly) throws everything else that he can possibly think of in here.
He is truly in one of those “zones” that he must have been pulled into by the “ancients”.

In this song the GODFATHA takes us from Apt 4d in the projects to Africa and back again, by way of Mars!!!!!

The bass, congas and drums provide a GROOVE that is so damn strong that at one point the GODFATHA himself says “Bobby, the groove is so strong, tell the engineer to keep the tape rolling so we can try something a little different…KEEP THE TAPE RUNNIN RON” and then the groove continues with the volume turned down a bit and James Brown and Bobby Byrd engage in an “afropolyrythmic syncopated” (there I go using that word again…..lol) call & response that is so sharp and tight that it sounds like it must have been rehearsed 1,000 times, yet you KNOW that it could NEVER again be duplicated!!!

James Brown is an absolute trance, possessed by ancient African Spirits yet he is completely in control of the proceedings In other words it’s sorta like achieving “perfection amid chaos”

Now I will admit that when I first heard this song in High School, I wasn’t thinking about ANY of this.
All I was thinking about was DANCING 100 MILES PER HOUR (and not making an idiot of myself…..lol)

However ALL of this is there and then there is more……so much more

THERE IS A MESSAGE IN BETWEEN BOOTSY’S MONSTER BASS LINES

Of course the lyrics are about both PERSONAL and SOCIETAL RESPONSIBILITY

� “just shape up YOUR bag, don’t worry bout MINE, I’m doin just fine…”
� “Talkin Black during the week and livin like a NEGRO on the weekends…”
� “Don’t call me a BOY when you know I’m GROWN…”
� “Just be a MAN and take your STAND”
� “We gotta get together and clean that up”
� “After all the protesting and marchin you got to know where you’re going
� when you get there…”

James gives us a certain kind of wisdom, usually found only on Ghetto street corners under streetlamps, at 2 am that seem as bright as the sun does at 2pm. The messages are clear, simple and make TOTAL sense.

� “Godfather of Soul”
� “Minister of the new Heavy Funk”
� “Hardest Workin man in Show Business”

Whateva you wanna call him, he STILL doesn’t get enough credit

Is this his GREATEST song?
Is this song the ONE that you could put into a time capsule and label it the “quintessential rock n’ roll record” (even though it would NEVER appear on a “rock critic’s” list?)

I don’t know the answers to questions like that, but I will tell you this
much….

During the course of writing this piece, I have been doing the following…

1. Dancing and spinning around this room like a whirling dervish
2. Screaming the lyrics
3. Hitting the repeat button on the CD player

…as I keep on singin that “same old funny song”


–Bob Davis

Categories
Artist Black Rock Funk

Profile: Vet Stone – Little Sister – A Compelling Person (A Compelling Book,A Compelling Song)

“It’s NOT Your Neighborhood…YOU’RE THE ONE”

Vet Stone is Sly Stone’s “Little Sister.”

She appeared at Woodstock as a member of Sly & the Family Stone. She had a monster hit record back in 1970, called “You’re the One,” that I was a huge fan of, and would also prove to be quite inspirational for many others as well.

She has been engaged in a journey over the past 10 years to “bend the curve of music history.” But more importantly to restore a sense of sanity to her own family.

www.vetstone.com


I have known Vet Stone for about 20 years, and no doubt she has been one of my inspirations, as I have gone about building this thing called “Soul-Patrol.com.”

However she’s been an inspiration to me for much longer than that.

Of course Vet has a new book out that I would encourage everyone here to read, that has even the slightest bit of interest in the subjects of music/history/culture. You can find out more about the book at the following link is you are interested: www.vetstone.com

Her book is of course about her history as a member of Sly & the Family Stone. But more importantly it is a story about her journey over the past 10 years or so to “bend the curve of music history,” and to restore a sense of sanity to her family.

Back in 1970, I was 13 years old…

Of course like most teenagers I was into music and of course I was most interested in Sly & the Family Stone. They were without a doubt my favorite artist at the time. Just a few years earlier, I had made my very first purchase of a 45 record and it was “Everyday People,” by Sly & the Family Stone. Of course I had liked the song and it’s message of humanity, just like everyone else did. But honestly the reason why I was quite willing to plunk down my $0.59 cents for the piece of vinyl inside of the paper sleeve wasn’t because of “Everyday People.” It was for the slammin FUNK track on the other side called “Sing a Simple Song,” on the so called “b side.”

“Sing a Simple Song” was absolutely COMPELLING to my then 11 year old mind. And of course when I got it home, I took it out of the bag, removed the sleeve, removed the cherished 45 rpm record from the sleeve and placed it on the turntable of my father’s stereo system, using the 45 spindle and plugged in the headphones. That’s because I knew that the ONLY proper way to listen to “Sing a Simple Song” was at the highest volume level possible.

And of course I was totally and completely satisfied.

Lyrically the high point of the song is Rose Stone chanting the immortal
line: “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Then Sly saying: “all I have to hold on to is s simple song at last..”

And then the group responding with: “ya, ya, ya, ya, ya”

Lyrically, that was about as deep as things got 🙂
But to my then 11 year old mind, that didn’t matter. I had no idea what the song was supposed to be about then and even today I’m still not sure.

But what I am absolutely certain of is that the instruments absolutely blew my mind. The lyrics don’t really even matter. The voices of the members of Sly & the Family Stone so perfectly blended with the STANK FUNK of the instruments I didn’t care what they might be trying to say. I did however listen to that 45 rpm recording over and over again, as often as I could. In fact I just listened to “Sing a Simple Song” again a few moments ago. It’s probably the 10,000th time in my life that I have listened to “Sing a Simple Song.”

(& IT IS JUST AS COMPELLING TODAY)

“Sing a Simple Song” also appears on the 1969 album from Sly & the Family Stone called “STAND.” Needless to say, I brought that album as soon as I could and wore it out as well.

Fast forward to 1970 and I just like the rest of the world were wondering when Sly & the Family Stone was ever going to release another album.

One Saturday afternoon I find myself listening to my transistor radio, tuned of course to my very favorite radio station WWRL 1600 on the AM dial in New York City…

I heard a sexy female voice, half talking/half whispering…. “i’m the one, you’re the one, i’m the one, you’re the one, i’m the one, you’re the one, i’m the one, you’re the one…”

Then there are a bunch of cool lyrics, sounds like a female gospel group almost that I can’t quite make out, but they sound cool…

“Im the one who wants to be ahead
I stand in line and I’m behind instead
What is happenin, let me look around
Not a thing tryin to hold me down
Now I know I got to look at me
Some things a little hard to see”


AND THEN COMES THA BOMB…

“Some ultra phunky bass, guitar & horn riffs” (a la “Sing a Simple Song”)

And my 13 year old azz is like…..”dat’s Sly & the Family Stone.”

The ultra phunky bass, guitar & horn riffs continue, but are then assisted by the “female gospel singers,” and then I hear…

“It ain’t your neighborhood
YOU’RE THE ONE
Your mamma can’t make you good
YOU’RE THE ONE
Can’t blame no argument
YOU’RE THE ONE
Don’t you know how to take a hint
YOU’RE THE ONE
But your pity can make you numb
YOU’RE THE ONE”


These lyrics are delivered by the “female gospel singers,” in rapid fire, kinda like what we might call female rappers today, but back then it sounded more like the kind of stuff that Black girls used to say while they were jumping rope. It was their version of the dozens. It also kinds sounded the way that Black women sometimes sound when they are angry with Black men, usually delivered with their hands firmly planted on their hips.

Despite the rapid fire delivery, there was absolutely no question or confusion what this song was all about.

It was an angry song. But although it was angry, it also contained a solution to the problem. And it was a simple solution…

YOU’RE THE ONE

What a compelling challenge to have thrust in one’s face!!! It’s all about taking personal accountability for whatever your situation might be!!! (I am down with that)

One of the things that we love to do is to blame someone else for our problems. We love to point the finger; In fact we love to point the finger so much that it becomes a convenient excuse to do absolutely nothing. And of course doing nothing simply leads to a victory for the “status quo.”

I say all of this to say that back in 1970, the song “You’re the One” – Little Sister was quite inspirational to a certain 13 year old young man in NY.

I mean…..it was as if they finally found some meaningful words for “Sing a Simple Song.”

YOU’RE THE ONE

It contained much the same message as the James Brown song “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nuthin, Open Up The Door and I’ll Get It Myself.”

I went over to my local record store and picked up on “You’re the One” – Little Sister, brought it back home and blasted it thru the headphones of my father’s stereo system, because just like “Sing a Simple Song,” “You’re the One” deserved to be heard as loud as possible and as often as possible.

In fact I just listened to “You’re the One” – Little Sister again a few moments ago. It is just compelling and fresh today, as it was back in 1970.

In some ways I think that given the current climate in the United States and around the world, it might just do a whole lot of us a heck of a lot of good to go back and listen to the song. Its message is just as relevant today as it was on the very first day that the song was released over 40 years ago.

Today we can clearly see the philosophy embodied in “You’re the One” worldwide movements such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and more, where people are taking personal accountability quite seriously and making change into a reality.

Fast forward to the early 2000’s…
I get to finally meet Vet Stone.
First via email.
Then via telephone.
Finally in person.
I even got to do a 1 hour long interview with Vet Stone a few years ago.

She is a compelling artist.
And she is a compelling individual.
She’s your best friend.
And she’s also your enemy’s worst nightmare.

I wanted to meet her simply because she was trying to “bend the curve of music history.”
But I grew to like her as a person because she wanted to restore a sense of sanity to her own family. Her attempt to do both of those two things at the same time is an incredible story. It is proof positive once again, that a single person can make a difference. And her story contains a lesson for us all.

I can tell you for a fact that Vet Stone is a person who “talks the talk and walks the walk.” And as such she has been an inspiration to me personally. SHE’S THE ONE

As you learn more about her, you may find yourself also to be inspired by her story about something that we thought we know all about, but in the final analysis we will learn just how little we do know.

Of course I have been privileged to be an observer to that story, in an up close and personal way that I could have never imagined possible back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when I was saving my pennies to by 45 rpm records of Sly & the Family Stone. I have even written about some of those observations here on the internet for the past 10 years.

One of the most frequent questions that I have gotten in my years on the internet has been: “Whatever happened to Sly & the Family Stone?”

The person I know who is best qualified to answer that question isn’t me. It is Vet Stone. And if you want to get as close to the truth as possible. I would suggest that you pay a visit to the following website: www.vetstone.com

Categories
Artist Black Rock FP - New Releases/Live Performances Funk

New Release from Prince: Prince‘s estate released ‘I Need A Man’, a previously unheard song written by the star in the early 1980s.

Hear a previously unreleased song by Prince, ‘I Need A Man’
A song originally intended for The Hookers/Vanity 6 and, later, Bonnie Raitt (courtesy of NME )

Prince‘s estate have released ‘I Need A Man’, a previously unheard song written by the star in the early 1980s.

By
Charlotte Krol
17th September 2020


The track previews a super deluxe reissue of Prince’s 1987 album ‘Sign O’ the Times’, which features 63 unreleased songs as well as a previously unseen concert film.

As Consequence Of Sound reports, the track was originally written and recorded in 1981 for The Hookers, a new girl band Prince wanted to assemble that eventually became Vanity 6. ‘I Need A Man’ was one of the early Hookers songs that didn’t make the cut for Vanity 6’s one and only 1982 self-titled album.

Prince (1958-2016) performs onstage during the 1984 Purple Rain Tour on November 4, 1984, at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. CREDIT: Ross Marino/Getty Images
Five years later, Prince was so impressed by Grammy nominee Bonnie Raitt’s performance at the 1987 ceremony that he contacted her to form a creative partnership. A completely reworked version of ‘I Need A Man’ was proposed but the collaboration never materialised.

‘I Need A Man’ is preceded by three other teasers of the upcoming compendium: ‘Cosmic Day’, ‘Witness 4 The Prosecution (Version 1)’ and a never-before-released 1979 version of ‘I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man’. The ‘Sign O’ the Times’ deluxe reissue is set for release on September 25 via Prince’s website.

In other news, Sheila E has spoken about working with Prince, saying the pair worked on many songs together that are still unreleased.

The drummer and singer began working with the late star in 1984 on his album ‘Purple Rain’. He also went on to produce her debut solo record ‘The Glamorous Life’ in the same year, which led to them becoming frequent collaborators.

Categories
Artist Black Rock Classic Soul Doo Wop

WHO IS LITTLE RICHARD? (New Theme to MNF)

New Theme for MNF – Little Richard’s “Rip It Up featuring Butcher Brown”

Here is where the rest of the world started to find out what those darkies were doing on the other side of the world. In the wilderness of North America, right after 408 years of servitude and so-called emancipation; we were freed from the shackle: yet without a dime in our pockets.  After following a civil rights movement that yielded few privileges for our folks (Black folks would orchestrate another such movement that would take place 100 years later).  However, from this murkiness, would come a music, triggered by adverse cultural conditions; carrying a voice and a sound that would define and redefine American music for years to come.

This sound was created from within an oppressive and repressive society; one which segregated Black folks from the rest of American society for many years.  The sound came right after what is now known as Ragtime and Swing–direct from the music of Black folks living in the South (music currently known as the Blues)–after a time when folks, ‘watched radio shows on the radio’ to see what, “The Shadow knows. . .”

From this period, there came an articulation of lyrical genius–accompanied by voluminous amounts of outlandish piano playing; striking the hearts, minds and souls of many–created from Black people’s form of music once referred to in American society as “Race Music.”

They say, “Oppression spawns creativity,” and with Black music, there is certainly no exception.  Music itself is a cultural icon–a means of expression, a response to the social conditions made by a group of people.  Certain types of entertainment by our folks wins favor in American society, because it conjures up what mainstream society likes.

As human beings, we are sociological creatures—our responses are a response to our environmental conditions—based upon our rearing, or the cultural aspects we’re raised up in. As Blacks in America, we are subject to mainstream America opinions and proclivities, and this is an actual fact!  And this fact impacts on the way our people process things.

Little Richard was born Dec. 5, 1932 in Macon, Georgia, a rural area (James Brown was born May 3, 1933, in Barnwell SC) in the South, during a time called the “Great Depression.” This part of the country is known as the “Bible Belt”–home of both religious music and the music of (southern) Black folks (commonly known today as, “The Blues”) which was bound to have an effect on Richard’s life.  [Whites have their own religious, folk or country music as well, but that is definitely another story.]

His full given name is Richard Wayne Penniman–one of twelve children of Charles Penniman; his mother was Leva Mae Steward. Richard’s father was a brick mason, a bootlegger, and later a nightclub owner.  His father was shot dead outside of a bar, when Little Richard was 19 years of age. 

Tumultuous times in America, led to a period of segregation from 1877 to the mid-1960s; a time in which Blacks were treated like second-class citizens–and during such times came the Great Depression making money scarce; so hustling and businesses around vices began to crop up, deemed by some; necessary to survive in such times.  Little Richard speaks of such times: “Macon was a muddy little town. . . I was born in the slums; my daddy sold whiskey, bootleg whiskey.  Back at that time, the Black records was considered race records and Black records was not played on White stations at the time.”

As a child, Little Richard was raised Pentecostal; embracing its’ style of music as performed by Black folks.  Shout and testifying tones delivered by lead singer–followed by a chorale response; reminiscent of a sound like: “Mbube” performed by Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds (the original creators of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”), “Pata, Pata” by Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Zulu tribes, or various forms of African religious music; consisting of similar hoots, shouts, and wails within tunes.  As Richard’s childhood was centered around the Pentecostal church and its’ music.  Even his grandfather and two uncles attended the church where he learned to play piano and sing gospel music.  In October 1947, Sister Rosetta Tharpe heard young Richard singing her songs before a performance.  So she paid him to open for her show.

As a matter of fact, all throughout his life, Little Richard has been known to be a deeply religious person; carrying his Bible everywhere which probably contributed to his incorporating of sacred sounds and other nuances into his “Party-hearty” danceable secular music.

Richard’s father, Charles or “Bud,” had issues with Little Richard’s manner or effeminate ways; so at the age of 13, his father put him out on his own.  Richard was bodacious, and somewhat of a prankster, doing things at a time when such things were not socially acceptable; but Richard was able to find refuge with a White family, while he honed his performance skills.

By “Party-Hearty” music, Richard is referencing to “Boogie-Woogie” or the “Blues-Boogie style” in Race Music, which plays piano with a strong, fast beat; but his style brought in some innovations.  Today, it is hard to imagine that Black folks danced to Jazz, or the music we hear today as Blues–or even what has known today as Rock and Roll; but it is true for all the above.

Today Blues music does not showcase as much of the Blues & Boogie as it did in Little Richard’s teen years but it is still around today.  Recently I spoke to two Black men, whose ages range from mid to late seventies–who referred to the Motown Revue shows at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia as “Rock & Roll shows.”

Our perception on Black music today, is much, much different from how Black or Race music was viewed in Little Richard’s younger years.  The chemistry of Little Richard style is just pure genius; particularly when you consider that he gained national and superstar status in a very segregated United States.    

First of all, Little Richard’s style combined the electricity of church, the influence of Vaudeville, his manner of dress; flamboyant clothes and pompadour hair and Party-Hearty/Blues-Boogie music and supercharged personality, rocked and shocked the world to his arrival! 

I think, in order for you to fully appreciate his genius, you have to realize that television wasn’t a household item when Little Richard, James Brown or Sammy Davis Jr. rose to prominence.  Davis, a Vaudeville childhood sensation of his day (was like a Michael Jackson of my youth):  Multitalented, to say the least; Sammy was a Vaudevillian performer that sang, dance and act…in short a consummate performer.  Little Richard had stars like this for inspiration.  Also, this was during the time of the Golden Age of Radio; where audiences listened to “Television-like” shows on the radio.

People either went out to live entertainment like Vaudeville shows, theater or band performances or they “watched the radio”—this paradigm was entertainment during most of Little Richard’s childhood.

I would venture to say, that this type of social influence made Little Richard and James Brown the dynamic performers they turned out to be.  “I used to take my mother’s curtains and put them on my shoulders and I used to call myself at the time “The Magnificent One.” I was wearing makeup and eyelashes when no men were wearing that. I was very beautiful; I had hair hanging everywhere,” Little Richard explained. 

His fervent shrieks, shouts, screams and wails–religious-influenced vocal exclamations–along with his sexually charged innuendo while pounding at the keys–made Richard a force to be reckoned with.  Little Richard’s flamboyant garb and showmanship made him quite the spectacle…amply receiving notoriety for his onstage antics by Black and White audiences alike.

It is a known fact–Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Bo Diddley were all responsible for the transition of Race Music (commonly known as the Blues) into what is today known as “Rock and Roll.”  But what is not so well known, is how much Little Richard’s way of creating and performing his “Party-Hearty” music shaped the music world.

David Bowie said, “If it hadn’t been for him (Little Richard), I probably wouldn’t have gone into music.”  The legendary Jimi Hendrix, who once played in Little Richard’s Band, said he wanted his guitar to sound like Little Richard’s voice.  Having an affinity for Protestant music–it was Richard’s influence which prompted his manager to promote the 18 year old James Brown and his former gospel group (now known as the Flames).  Brown’s group got signed to Federal Records (a subsidiary of King Records), which released Brown’s “Please, Please, Please” a record which sole 3 million copies and put James Brown on the map.  

Paul McCartney of The Beatles said, “I owe a lot of what I do to Little Richard.”  The Beatles fifth UK EP album, “Long Tall Sally,” included a Little Richard song “Long Tall Sally.”  The album, “Beatles for Sale” (4th study album) included, “Hey-Hey-Hey” and “Lucille” and “Oh My Soul” covered on the 1994, “Live at the BBC” Beatles’ compilation adds to his accolades.  The Beatles, “I’m Down,” is a salute to Little Richard’s style.  The Beatles opened for Little Richard when he performed at the Star-Club in Hamburg during their early years.  Richard’s tunes are a part of the Rock & Roll canon, covered by almost every major European Rock artist.  Elton John said, “I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it,” I didn’t ever want to be anything else…I’m more of a Little Richard stylist.”  Otis Redding joined the Upsetters, little Richard’s band, after he went solo.  Bob Dylan said, “He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy.”  Chuck, Fats, Bo…those other Black men are Rock’s architects; but Little Richard is its’ prototype.

“I was wearing purple before you was wearing it,” Richard said to the camera, directed towards Prince; who is considered, “The Little Richard” of his generation: as Little Richard and James Brown were among the top billers of theirs.  

“From the git-go, my music was accepted by whites,” said Little Richard; and he did this in a segregated world.  But this feat wasn’t enough to save him from being taken advantage of by the inequalities in the music industry of the 1950s: Pat Boone scored big by covering Richard’s songs which Richard claims he never received anything.  Pat Boone’s lackluster copies of, “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally,” ranked well along Richard’s own versions.  “I been knocking for years and they won’t let me in.  I keep coming back, trying it again.  Haven’t got nothing. While I was slipping and sliding, they was keeping and hiding; putting my money in unknown banks.”

While Little Richard recorded many secular and religious tunes, his success started with Tutti Frutti (Specialty Records) in 1956, followed by a series of hits; Long Tall Sally, Rip It Up, Lucille (1957), along with Good Golly Miss Molly in 1958, followed by a long career and many appearances and awards.  Little Richard appeared in early Rock & Roll movies such as, Don’t Knock the Rock (1956) and The Girl Can’t Help It (1957) and Mister Rock ’n’ Roll (1957).  On May 9, 2020, Little Richard returned to his essence in Nashville, Tennessee from bone cancer.

Categories
Black Rock FP - Commentary/Analysis

You can be in the next Family Stand Video (Song For Michelle)

https://www.facebook.com/sandrastvictor/videos/10159728485337316

From Sandra St. Victor…

If you are as pissed as I am, I want you in our video. Send me a video of yourself, either singing the chorus of this song, or doing whatever you want to do to get your point across. Now is the time for SOULdiers to step up. Folks need to know we will not be playing chess while they turn over tables and smash the pieces. That part of the game is finished. We have to flood the zone of white supremacy and shut this shit down, before it’s too late. You with me? Send your video to be in The Family Stand video here:http://bit.ly/NoPeriodTFS