Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Playlist: In memoriam – 2008

1. “Manic Depression” – Buddy Miles

2. “Everybody Needs a Proper Education” – Mikey Dread

3. “I Won’t Last a Day Without You/Let Me Be the One” – Al Wilson

4. “All Blues” – Jimmy McGriff

5. “You Can’t Judge a Book By the Cover” – Bo Diddley

6. “Woody ’n You” – Johnny Griffin Sextet

7. “African Soldiers” – Sonny Okosuns

8. “Sugar” – Hiram Bullock

9. “Hung Up On My Baby” – Isaac Hayes

10. “I Wanna Get Next to You” – Rose Royce
(Written and produced by Norman Whitfield.)

11. “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” – The Motorcity All-Stars feat. Levi Stubbs

12. “Worth Every Tear I Cry” – Dee Dee Warwick

13. “Beware, Verwoerd!” – Miriam Makeba

14. “Yer Blues” – The Dirty Mac
(Mitch Mitchell on drums.)

15. “Oh, My Babe” – Odetta

16. “Firebirds” – Prince Lasha & Sonny Simmons

17. “Sell Me!” (live) – Eartha Kitt

18. “The Intrepid Fox” – Freddie Hubbard

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Freddie Hubbard speaks

The arc of Freddie Hubbard’s music career was shaped profoundly by his move, during the 1970s, away from straight jazz to a more “commercial” funk/fusion style.

Jazz critics trashed him. And by the mid-’80s, Hubbard himself was expressing regrets.

Ben Sidran includes a frank conversation with Hubbard (from 1985) on his wonderful “Talking Jazz” CD set.

Click here to hear a 3-minute excerpt on my Vox blog.

R.I.P., Freddie.

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘Backstrokin’ ’

Remember the Fatback Band? Those dudes put out some tasty records (like this one) during the Golden Age of Funk.

Fatback never crossed over to the pop charts but had a long career anyway... including, in recent years, much time spent in Europe in Japan.

The other night, Fatback played its first New York City gig in 15 years.

Bob Davis of Soul-Patrol.com, a huge Fatback fan, is streaming the band’s entire “Live in Tokyo” CD on his Internet radio station (for RealPlayer).

What could possibly be more cute than...

... a demonically possessed toddler?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008)

Freddie Hubbard, one of the great trumpet players of the modern jazz era, died today in Los Angeles. He was 70. He had suffered a heart attack last month.

As the Los Angeles Times reports in its obituary, Hubbard “was present on many of the most significant jazz albums of the ’60s, among them Ornette Coleman’s ‘Free Jazz,’ John Coltrane’s ‘Ascension,’ Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out to Lunch,’ Oliver Nelson’s ‘Blues and the Abstract Truth,’ Wayne Shorter’s ‘Speak No Evil’ and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage.’ ”

Hubbard was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers from 1961 to 1964. One of my favorite Blakey tracks from this period is “Thermo,” composed by Hubbard. Click here to stream it on my Vox blog, because it is blazing hot. (Wayne Shorter burns on his solo as well.)

Freddie Hubbard had a prolific career as a leader during the ’60s and ’70s. Click here to hear “Crisis” from his 1961 Blue Note album “Ready for Freddie.”

We’ve lost so many of our best this year.

A free Betty Davis download

If you know about Betty Davis, then you probably own all of her albums already. But here’s a FREE MP3 from her 1973 debut LP.

Click here to stream “Anti Love Song” on my Vox blog. (That’s Larry Graham on bass.)

“Anti Love Song” (MP3)
Album available at iTunes Music Store
Album available at eMusic
Album available at Amazon MP3

Random hotness wrongness

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Playlist: Black singers, white songs (pt. 3)

As promised, here are more black singers covering songs made famous by white artists:

1. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Tamara Wellons

Tamara Wellons is from my old stomping grounds... Prince George’s County, Maryland. Go on, girl!

2. “Sledgehammer” – Maiysha

Maiysha – from Brooklyn by way of Minneapolis (or maybe it’s the other way around) – is nominated for a Grammy for her debut single, “Wanna Be.”

3. “What I Am” – Sy Smith

Howard University graduate Sy Smith makes her main living these days as a background vocalist on “American Idol.”

4. “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” – Alana Davis

Native New Yorker Alana Davis is a daughter of the late Walter Davis, Jr., a jazz pianist who recorded with the likes of Max Roach, Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey.

Randomonium

Have you noticed dimes laying around on the ground the way you used to see pennies?

Yesterday I saw a dime on the ground outside a 7-Eleven. My instinct was to pick it up, but I didn’t. Somebody was sitting in a parked car nearby, but that’s not what inhibited me. Heck, there is no shame in picking up money.

But I happen to know that a mentally ill older fellow hangs around that strip mall occasionally. He begs for money. Give him a shot at the dime, I figured.

Because he got all he’s gonna get from me.

Not that I’m especially lacking in compassion. But I gave him a dollar once, and he proceeded to chat me up for what seemed like 10 minutes. In the course of that, he mentioned his son. And I was thinking, “Dude, you got family? Why you out here begging?”

Anyway, today I saw a dime on the ground at the gas station. I was all over that bad boy. It’ll probably be the high point of my day.

Here’s my thing: I like Coinstar. I enjoy carrying a small sack of change to the supermarket, dumping it into the big green machine, and seeing how closely I can guess the amount.

And then I shop as if it were all found money.

That Coinstar machine is the greatest human invention since the George Foreman grill.

Speaking of which, I haven’t used my George Foreman grill in six months or so. I lifted the lid today, hoping that I’d cleaned it after my last steak.

I had not. It’s kinda gross.

Why YouTube is better than television

Reason #17: Eccentric blackness.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Playlist: Eccentric blackness revisited

One of my favorite music posts of 2008 was labeled “Eccentric blackness.” It was a tribute to the impassioned weirdness of performers such as Wesley Willis.

The official term for this type of material is “outsider music.” Call it what you will... just give me more of it. Click the song titles below to hear a few of my latest acquisitions.

1. “In Canada” – B.J. Snowden

B.J. Snowden is, by day, a substitute schoolteacher in Massachusetts. Purportedly she holds a degree from the prestigious Berklee College of Music.

The fact that she sings badly hasn’t kept her from attracting a cult following. People are charmed by her child-like style. She has even appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

This 1996 track is Ms. Snowden’s signature song. I dedicate it to my loyal Canadian reader, Dollar Bill.

2. “Woman Your Smell, It Makes Me Well” – Elton White

If you haven’t had the pleasure of stumbling upon Elton and Betty White on MySpace, YouTube or elsewhere across the Internets, you’ve missed something. Elton flies his freak flag high and proud. Follow this link and you can find several Elton and Betty MP3s to download for free.

3. “Yellow Bird” – Joseph Spence

Joseph Spence was a guitarist and folksinger in the Bahamas. His guitar technique has many serious admirers. But Spence’s idiosyncratic vocalizations – as on this calypso standard, “Yellow Bird” – earn him a place in the Eccentric Blackness Hall of Fame. (Hat-tip: Uppity Music.)

4. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – Shooby Taylor

A commenter on the original “Eccentric blackness” thread pointed me to the late William “Shooby” Taylor. Shooby never made it as a scat singer. But his uniqueness has been rewarded with a nice Wikipedia entry.

Follow this link for some free Shooby Taylor downloads. And check out the video below to see Mr. Taylor get booed off stage at the Apollo.

Saturday morning cartoon

Friday, December 26, 2008

The most racist songs ever recorded

If you don’t have a strong stomach for unfettered expressions of Southern racism – with N-words aplenty – you won’t want to listen to the music I’m streaming with this post.

On the other hand, the fact that Obama was elected president might make it easier to handle.

Let’s start in 1990, when I interviewed the essayist Stanley Crouch by phone. The subject was 2 Live Crew, whose foul-mouthed rap songs were cause for much consternation amongst the bourgeoisie (and law enforcement entities).

Stanley Crouch doesn’t like hip-hop. And he hated 2 Live Crew; “they’re just some vulgar, street-corner-type clowns” who shouldn’t be defended by intelligent black folk.

Yet Crouch acknowledged that, in his youth, he found the vulgar, street-corner rhymes of Rudy Ray Moore to be “kind of comical.”

I asked Mr. Crouch whether a record’s “comical” impact, in itself, imbued it with artistic value and social merit.

“No no no no no no no no,” Crouch responded. “If funny is the justification, then any kind of humor has cultural validity.

“I mean, I remember hearing a record a long time ago, put out by, I think, the White Citizens’ Council, which was called ‘For Segregationists Only.’ ... And the target of the humor was the civil-rights activists and shiftless, no-account, welfare [blacks].”

I’d never heard of “For Segregationists Only,” but I was curious. In the Internet Age, of course, every old cultural artifact is new again. You can purchase “For Segregationists Only” from white racist websites.

Or you can go the illegal-download route, which I did.

“For Segregationists Only” was not put out by the White Citizens’ Council but by a bona fide Louisiana record producer named J.D. “Jay” Miller.

Miller, who died in 1996, was a renowned purveyor of Cajun music, swamp pop and blues. He even produced records by black artists such as Slim Harpo, Lightnin’ Slim and Katie Webster. (I wonder what these black musicians thought about Miller’s catalog of white-supremacist tunes such as “Kajun Klu Klux Klan.”)

Today, the J.D Miller Recording Studio Museum is considered a cultural landmark in the city of Crowley, La.

Miller’s most prolific racist artist was known as Johnny Rebel. Click these song titles to hear some of Johnny Rebel’s 1960s output:

1. “Nigger Hatin’ Me”

2. “Some Niggers Never Die”

3. “Nigger Nigger”

4. “Move Them Niggers North”


Who was Johnny Rebel? He was a Cajun musician named C.J. Trahan, a.k.a. Pee Wee Trahan. He is still alive. And he is unrepentant.

“I used to think I was prejudiced. I am not prejudiced,” Trahan told an interviewer a few years ago. “If you are prejudiced, you don’t like all races. Well, I don’t have anything against all races. ...

“They asked me to [make those records], hell, I did it. I would do anything to make a buck. Hell, I made a few bucks off of it.”

Trahan has no particular love for black folks, however. “Blacks develop an attitude towards the whites, and they won’t let it go,” he said. “They won’t let go of what happened.

“Why should we pay reparations for things that happened 200 years ago? I didn’t have a slave. I was run out of my country... my ancestors were run out of Nova Scotia.”

Since becoming an underground celebrity on the Internet, “Johnny Rebel” has put out an album of new material. Click here to hear “Quit Your Bitchin’ Nigger!” from Trahan’s 2003 album “It’s the Attitude, Stupid!”

Other tunes on this album are “Niggers Suck!” and “Send ’Em All Back to Africa.”

Something wistful from Rebecca Jordan

I hope you all had a happy Christmas. Because I’m about to wreck that “peace-and-goodwill” vibe with a historical post later today. (Wait for it...)

But before I get naughty, let me share something nice: A music video from a young L.A. pop singer named Rebecca Jordan.

It’s her interpretation of “Dreams,” the Fleetwood Mac classic. Stripped down, simple, lovely.

This track originally was on Jordan’s self-released EP “The Trouble with Fiction” in 2005. (Back then she spelled her name “Rebekah.” Her new website says it’s “Rebecca.” Glad she got that sorted out.)

This video reminds me to tell you... it’s time for another round of “Black singers, white songs.” I’ve got a great new batch, and I’ll post that playlist on Sunday. Please come by and listen.

(Damn. Two teases in one post? I should be wearing tassels.)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Eartha Kitt (1927-2008)

With sadness, I pass along the news that Eartha Kitt has died, a few weeks short of her 82nd birthday. She had colon cancer.

CNN.com’s report is here.

Ms. Kitt was still in demand as a cabaret singer. Click here to hear “It Was a Very Good Year” from her 2006 CD “Live from the Café Carlyle.”

Three months ago, Gwen Ifill interviewed Ms. Kitt for a PBS special – “An Evening with Eartha Kitt” – which is due to be broadcast in February.

Below is a 1962 vidclip of Eartha Kitt at the height of her popularity. What a unique talent she was.

Christmas Grace

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A free Alice Gomez download

Alice Gomez is a Latin percussionist who has embraced Native American flute music. Click here to hear her version of “Silent Night” on my Vox blog.

To download it as a FREE MP3, click the song title below.

“Silent Night” (MP3)
Album available at eMusic
Album available at Amazon MP3

President-elect Obama’s holiday message

Something seasonal from Aretha Franklin

This 3½-minute report was posted yesterday on Voice of America’s YouTube channel:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Name this singer, win a prize.

Another contest, y’all. Click here and listen to a Christmas song. The first person to correctly identify this singer – in the comments section here – will win a prize.

Here’s a hint: She had a big hit single in the early 1970s.

Only one guess per reader, please.

The prize you’re playing for is a factory-sealed copy of the 2003 CD “Borders of Disordely Time” by jazz poet Jayne Cortez.

Cortez is a national treasure. And this album includes music from Ron Carter, James “Blood” Ulmer, Bobby Bradford, Frank Lowe and T.K. Blue. Click here to hear one of the pieces... a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.

UPDATE (12/23/08): We have a winner. RP correctly identified the singer as Denise LaSalle. The track is called “Santa’s Got the Blues.”

Click here to hear her 1971 gold record, “Trapped By a Thing Called Love.”

What could possibly be more cute than...

... a Lab shtupping a teddy bear?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Playlist: Cool Christmas music

Can’t say I’m nuts about Christmas music. That’s one thing I just never felt compelled to spend money on.

But ’tis the season and all, so let me spread some holiday cheer with a little listening party.

And I wanna keep it going in the comments section. If you have some truly funky and/or unique Christmas songs to recommend, please let me know. I’ll stream some of them on my Vox blog.

(Nothing against James Brown or Phil Spector, but I’m really interested in stuff I haven’t heard before.)

1. “Christmas on Riverside Drive” – August Darnell

You know I love me some Kid Creole & the Coconuts. But I didn’t know till a couple of months ago that August Darnell wrote a Christmas song. This track was originally released in the early ‘80s on the “ZE Christmas Record.”

2. “Santa’s Got a Big Old Bag” – The BellRays

One of my readers – blaark by name – turned me on last month to Lisa Kekaula, lead singer of a rock band called the BellRays. Then I found this cut. The BellRays came with the hard funk on this one.

(WARNING: Amazon.com has this track listed under the wrong title on its “BellRays Christmas” download page. “Santa’s Got a Big Old Bag” is the track with a 4:32 running time.)

3. “Little Christmas Tree” – Michael Jackson

Not the world’s greatest song by any stretch. But there’s something historically significant about “Little Christmas Tree.” It is (to my knowledge) the only Christmas song ever written by George Clinton! He wrote it back in the ’60s, when he was trying to make it as a songwriter for Motown.

4. “The 12 Drinks of Christmas” – Frankie Ford

This novelty tune was released a few years ago by Frankie Ford, the pride of Gretna, Louisiana. Ford made one hit record, “Sea Cruise,” and that was in 1959. He has been performing ever since.

Alcoholics should find this reworking of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” very amusing.

5. “Omumu Onye Nzoputa (Jesu Kristi)/Olu Ebube Nke Onye Nweayi” – Oliver de Coque & his Expo ’76 Ogene Sound Super of Africa

How about a Nigerian Christmas song? (Now that’s something I haven’t heard before.)

This one comes courtesy of John B. at his African music blog, Likembe. (John B. is an occasional commenter here.)

This 1983 recording – more than 18 minutes long – is by Oliver de Coque, a superstar of highlife music.

De Coque died earlier this year.

Being that he sings in the Igbo language, I can’t understand what de Coque is saying... except for the words “Jesu” and “Kristi.” But his guitar playing is superb.

Random wrongness

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pass the Pickaninny Peppermints, please!

Yesterday I mentioned in passing the Whitman’s Sampler, an American confectionary classic. What little boy hasn’t bought his mom a Whitman’s Sampler for Mother’s Day? (And then tried to cop the chocolate-covered cherry for himself?)

Well, I just learned something I didn’t know about the Whitman’s company. One of its most popular items in the first half of the 20th Century was called “Pickaninny Peppermints.” Yes... with Negro faces on the box and everything.

Guess who led the fight in the early 1940s to get Whitman’s Candies to drop that “Pickaninny” shit? A young NAACP lawyer named Thurgood Marshall... future Supreme Court Justice of the United States.

Juan Williams tells the story in his 1998 book “Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary.” And here it is:
JUAN WILLIAMS: Marshall... was not comfortable with the sensationalism often used by reporters, and he initially resisted being drawn away from legal issues and into highly publicized crusades.

For example, [NAACP leader Walter] White started a media campaign against the continued use of crude, racist stereotypes in popular culture. In magazines, in advertisements, and on the radio, black Americans were commonly referred to as “darkies” and “shines.”

White had recently sought to get a shrimp company to change the name of one of its brands, Nigger Head Shrimp.

Marshall thought White needed a public relations agent, not a lawyer, for these cultural wars. But as he became closer to White, Marshall saw the potential of such protests.

He began by publicizing a letter he wrote challenging the Whitman candy company for selling Pickaninny Peppermints. Whitman’s production manager wrote back that the word was not a slur but meant a “cute colored kid.” Marshall exchanged letters with Whitman’s executives for more than four years.

He got Carl Murphy and the Afro-American involved. The paper ran a front-page story headlined: “If You Want to Be Called a Name, Buy Whitman’s.”

Marshall complained to the candy company that Pickaninny was as bad an epithet as “Sheeny, Dago, Kike and Wop.” Whitman’s eventually relented.

Return of Chicks with Ukuleles

Don’t front. Y’all been dying to see more of these, right? Am I right?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Prince Lasha (1929-2008)

The mysterious William B. Lawsha – a.k.a. Prince Lasha – was a free-jazz player whose reputation among fellow musicians far exceeded his popular fame. He played the flute, clarinet, alto sax and baritone sax.

Prince Lasha passed away on December 12 in Oakland. His funeral was today.

A teenage friend of Ornette Coleman’s in Fort Worth, Texas, Lasha started out on alto. He befriended Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane early in his career. Lasha would record with Eric Dolphy and, perhaps most notably, with Coltrane’s rhythm section on the 1963 LP “Illumination!”

Click here to hear “Nuttin’ Out Jones” (a Lasha composition) from that session. Lasha blows fire from his clarinet.

Prince Lasha only made a handful of albums as a leader. The easiest one to find for downloading is “Inside Story,” a 1965 recording featuring Herbie Hancock in his youthful prime. Click here to hear “Kwadwo Safari.” Lasha starts on flute before switching to sax.

(Amazingly, CBS Records wouldn’t release “Inside Story” when it was made. The German label Enja put it out in the ’70s.)

The virtual disappearance of Prince Lasha has been a longtime riddle for jazz fans. Seems he spent the ’80s and ’90s as a real estate agent.

Saxophonist Odean Pope collaborated with Lasha on a 2005 disc called “The Mystery of Prince Lasha.” Even before that, Pope had composed a tribute to him. Click here to hear Pope’s 1999 track “Prince La Sha.”

To read a long and interesting biographical interview with Prince Lasha from 2005, follow this link to AllAboutJazz.com.

Playlist: Funky Whiteboy Appreciation Week

As this very special theme week comes to a close, allow me to play us out with a Whitman’s Sampler of funky white chocolate. Click the song titles below to stream the music on my Vox blog.

UBM returns to its regular programming tomorrow.

1. “Incompetence” – Danny Bedrosian

I haven’t seen the P-Funk All Stars in a while, but they’ve got a new white cat in the crew... a keyboard prodigy from Massachusetts named Danny Bedrosian. From the sound of this track, Danny B. has studied P-Funk wizards Bernie Worrell and Junie Morrison quite thoroughly. And that’s a good thing.

2. “Deception” – Delta Nove

I first saw the Long Beach funk band Delta Nove in 2007, opening for Kid Creole and the Coconuts. The band impressed me with its goulash of styles – from reggae to Latin to N’Orleans funk to D.C. go-go. (This cut here shows how Delta Nove puts the go-go element to use.)

After their set, the Delta Nove boys impressed me further by working as the fill-in band behind Kid Creole himself. They’ve been on my radar ever since.

Front man Bobby Easton (pictured) has taken the funky whiteboy thing to the next level by growing dreads down to his waist.

3. “10 Karat Pinky Ring” – Big Chief

One of my favorite fanzines, back when zines were the thing, was called Motorbooty.

It was all about funky music and fringe pop culture. It featured interviews with the likes of George Clinton, Andre Williams and Blowfly.

The Michigan dudes who put out Motorbooty also had a band called Big Chief. I was into that too. This track is from “Mack Avenue Skullgame” (1993), a make-believe blaxploitation soundtrack.

4. “I Don’t Mind” – Vehicle feat. Bernie Worrell

I don’t know much about the New Jersey band Vehicle. But they got Bernie to play on this cut, so they must be doing something right.

5. “Down and Out In New York City” – Gov’t Mule

Warren Haynes is the living nexus point of Southern rock and funk. For nearly 20 years, he’s been the lead guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band. But for his side project, Gov’t Mule, Haynes has collaborated with Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Art Neville, Meshell Ndegeocello and many more. (Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers plays on this James Brown cover.)

Saturday morning cartoon

When I was 7 years old, I wore the grooves off my Archies album. (I enjoyed the comic books too.) Reggie Mantle took the bass line for a walk on this cut...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Funky whiteboy history lesson

If there were a Funky Whiteboy Hall of Fame, Dennis Coffey would be a charter member. A session guitarist during the glory years of Detroit soul, Coffey played on such classic cuts as “Band of Gold,” “War,” “It’s a Shame” and “Smiling Faces Sometimes.”

As a solo artist, Coffey had a big hit in 1971 with the funky instrumental “Scorpio.” (Beware of the re-recorded version for sale at MP3 sites; the original piece is inexplicably unavailable.)

And Coffey was probably the only white artist to record a blaxploitation soundtrack album (“Black Belt Jones”).

Dennis Coffey published his musical memoirs in 2004 – “Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars.” I love this book. It captures the excitement of a magical time in our cultural history.

Here’s a small excerpt from the book, where Coffey recalls his breakthrough session for Motown... laying the backing track for the Temptations’ “Cloud Nine” alongside the almighty Funk Brothers.

Motown producer Norman Whitfield had checked out Coffey’s playing at a “producers’ workshop” that Motown created so producers could work out their ideas before going into the studio with the Funks.

“Cloud Nine” was one song developed in the producer’s workshop. In fact, it was the only big hit to come out of it, according to Coffey. The workshop was discontinued due to lack of interest from the producers. But while it lasted, this workshop opened the door for Coffey to become a bona fide Motown session musician.

Click here to hear the result of his first date at Hitsville... the Top 10 smash “Cloud Nine.”
DENNIS COFFEY: As I drove up to the house on Grand Boulevard in Detroit and saw the sign, Hitsville, on the front, I suddenly realized that I too could become a part of the Motown Sound. I’d been packing them in at jazz and R&B clubs for the last two years, and I knew once they heard me play I’d be in like Flynn. ... I had already played on hits with artists such as J.J. Barnes, Del Shannon and Edwin Starr, so I was as ready as I’d ever be.

I was a little nervous, but I was young and thought I could do anything. It never dawned on me just how many musicians got one chance at Motown and were never called back. ...

The first person I spoke to was [James] Jamerson, who was sitting on his stool smoking a cigarette. When he saw me, he looked over and grinned.

“Coffey, me lad, how be it with you? What’s going on?”

I grinned back with my guitar in one hand and my special effects bag in the other. “Hey, man, I’m fine. Just tell me where I can set up.”

... Jamerson took me around the room and introduced me to the musicians I didn’t know. Everyone was smiling and real friendly, so I felt right at home. ...

I soon learned that we were expected to record one song per hour – no small feat. We had to sight read a new chart every hour, improvise guitar fills or a solo, and try to make a hit record all at the same time. Each session lasted about three hours. On most days, we did double sessions with an hour off for lunch. ...

That day on the session we had two drummers. Spider [Webb] played high hat and cymbals, and Pistol Allen played snare drum and foot pedal. Most people didn’t realize it, but the concept of using two drummers was born on that session. We used two drummers on almost every session after that.

That was how the drum cymbal parts on Motown records became so rhythmically complicated. I was sure that a lot of drummers working in bars and clubs were going crazy trying to duplicate the drum sound of Motown by attempting to play both drum parts at once. ...

Norman counted off the tempo, and everyone started playing. I ad-libbed a fast wah-wah effect in the introduction and played the written figure on the guitar through the wah-wah pedal. It immediately became very clear to me that I was playing with the finest rhythm section I’d ever heard. ...

On the last verse of the song, the groove we were playing was so hot that I just had to jump in and play a solo. I cranked my volume up a bit, closed me eyes, and let ’er rip.

It didn’t get much better than this. I was finally playing at Motown’s Hitsville studios with the finest damn band in the world and getting paid good money for it too. ... I gave Mr. Wah Wah Pedal a hell of a workout that day!

A free Greyboy Allstars download

The Greyboy Allstars grew from a collaboration between a white DJ named Andreas Stevens – a.k.a. Greyboy – and a black sax player named Karl Denson, formerly with Lenny Kravitz’s band.

They pulled together some funky whiteboys. And the band – under Denson’s leadership – has been making noise for nearly 15 years, collaborating with the likes of Fred Wesley and Gary Bartz.

How funky are the Greyboy Allstars? Well, they’ll be gigging on New Year’s Eve with George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic in San Francisco.

Before I get to today’s FREE MP3, let me spin you my favorite track by DJ Greyboy.

Click here to hear “Smokescreen” on my Vox blog. It’s from his 2001 album “Mastered the Art.”

(By the way, my handy “Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang” defines grayboy as “a white man or boy – usu. used contemptuously.” As in this citation from Nelson Algren’s 1951 essay “Chicago: City on the Make”: “Find them out for yourself, greyboy.”)

Now, back to today’s freebie, courtesy of Seattle public radio station KEXP. To hear “Still Waiting” by the Greyboy Allstars, click here. This track is from the band’s 2007 album “What Happened to Television?,” produced by DJ Greyboy.

To commence downloading the MP3, hit this link.

Siskel & Ebert on ‘The Commitments’

Yep, I found a Siskel & Ebert clip that fits the theme of Funky Whiteboy Appreciation Week. They reviewed “The Commitments” in 1991.

But the clip isn’t on YouTube, so follow this link to watch it on an official Disney Co. website. (Which means you’ll have to sit through a commercial.)

Roger Ebert dug “The Commitments,” Gene Siskel did not. Roger got kinda pissy with Gene, actually. Ahh, good times.

By the way, do you ever wonder what happened to Andrew Strong, the soulful lead singer of that fictional Irish band, the Commitments? Strong was only 16 when the movie was made.

Well, he has had a successful recording career overseas. Click here to hear “24/7 Lover” on my Vox blog. It’s from Strong’s 2002 album “Gypsy’s Kiss.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bonus freebie: Jack Vees

I’ll go out on a limb and say the electric bass is the cornerstone of funk. Bootsy, Graham, Stanley Clarke, enough said. When the bass is hittin’, the track is hittin’... even if we’re talking about the “Barney Miller” theme song.

So for funk fans, a white cat who can rip shit on the bass earns a special respect... be it Flea on the rock side, Les Claypool on the alt side, or John Patitucci on the jazz side.

Most funk fans have never heard of Jack Vees. Which makes sense, because he’s not a funk musician. In fact, his “serious music” credentials are so serious, he’s on the faculty at Yale.

But Vees played for a while with the progressive rock band Forever Einstein, and he has a couple of solo discs to his credit.

And I do mean solo. His 2000 CD “The Restaurant Behind the Pier” features nothing but his bass playing, artfully overdubbed.

Vees is all about exploring sonics and technique. Click here to hear his one-man version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.” It might not be funky, but it’s certainly funk-ish... and tasty all around.

This track is available as a FREE MP3, courtesy of Firehouse 12, a New Haven jazz space. To commence downloading, hit this link.

Ceux Qui Marchent Debout

(UBM: Before this week was over, I had to cross the tracks and get a white guy’s input for Funky Whiteboy Appreciation Week. So let me pass the mic to New Orleans musician Davis Rogan, who recently turned me on to the French band Ceux Qui Marchent Debout.)

In the summer of 2001, I went on a European tour with a pickup group from New Orleans I’ll call “The Drunk And Irresponsible Brass Band.”

In the midst of some John Bohnamesque antics somewhere in Switzerland, the group decided they could keep from getting kicked off the festival circuit by firing the white boy – me. Their efforts proved futile, though, as their bitch asses got sent home the next week.

So I ended up in Paris, homeless and relatively penniless, at the mercy of Ceux Qui Marchent Debout, a funky Parisian brass band that had opened for my brass funk outfit, All That, at JazzFest and blown our asses off the stage.

They adopted me. Their friends ran the greatest restaurant in Paris; they owned a bar where I couldn’t pay for a drink; the trombone player gave me the keys to his apartment, jumped into his VW bus with his ridiculously hot girlfriend and said “See you at the shows.”

The band learned three of my tunes and took me all over France that summer as a guest vocalist.

Those feats alone could win pretty much any group my Favorite-Band-in-the-World status. But Ceux Qui Marchent Debout – or CQMD – gets the trophy simply for being a fucking great band. Really great. Really funky.

The revolution started by the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth brass bands was a shot heard ’round the world. The Dozen’s Kirk Joseph took the sousaphone (John Philip’s wrap-around marching version of the tuba), gave up on the corny oom-pah bag and started playing it like a bass.

The Dozen added R&B tunes and bebop chops into the brass band. The Rebirth added youthful fire and boom on the drums. No brass band in New Orleans – or on planet Earth – has sounded the same since.

France has its own tradition of the marching brass band, or groupe de fanfare. The students at the art school in Paris get naked and march through the streets of Paris blowing horns.

CQMD came out of art school, just like Monday’s funky white kids, the Talking Heads. David Byrne is a fan, and a CQMD track appears on one of his Luaka Bop world music compilations.

I cornered David Byrne at a cocktail party once, and my entrée was our association with this group. “Ceux Qui Marchent Debout is a great live band,” he said.

It’s easy enough to send a packed house of tripping trustafarians into ecstasy, like they did at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. And the 15,000 people they wowed at Festival Acadien... well, that’s a bunch of Cajuns, they come to party.

But what I’ve witnessed is CQMD at some little microfestival in the middle of bumfuck Loire Valley, playing for a bunch of reserved, anal, old, straight-up honky French motherfuckers and making those geezers freak the fuck out.

So David Byrne is right, CQMD is a great live band. But they also make some great records.

While so many bands influenced by New Orleans are limited to a New Orleans groove, and so many foreigners (too often the Japanese) are able to study and regurgitate jazz or brass band music, CQMD actually manages to nod to all these traditions – and to ’70s funk and reggae and rap – and come back atcha with some original shit.

CQMD’s 1995 album “Debout” opens with snare drummer Tafani kicking a hilarious rap, in French, about the joys of eating mayonnaise. Their second record, the tragically out-of-print “Your Boddy,” begins with a straight up Chuck Brown go-go groove, the whole band chanting “Get your ass in the bus – and don’t you make no fuss.”

Their third album, “La La Lalalala,” is an amazing recording alone because they recorded the whole thing live, straight to mini disc with one stereo microphone, and it’s just as dense and complex as their studio shit. That comes from these guys being so ridiculously incredibly tight. Click here to hear “Free Orange Louisiana.”

(One of CQMD’s distinguishing variations on the brass band lineup is a banjo. Fuck that straw-hat Dixieland shit, I mean a funky banjo... straight-outta-Fela, chicken-scratchin’ banjo. That’s Clark.)

CQMD’s fourth disc, all covers, reveals how deep the band’s vinyl collection runs. “Funky Stuff in a Reggae Style” presents reggae reinterpretations of the funk canon, from P-Funk to Chocolate Milk. Click here to hear “One Nation Under a Groove.”

This album and the band’s next two feature a lithe, sexy French- Algerian singer named Ounsa, who has since gone solo.

I confess I haven’t much heard CQMD’s 2008 release, “Check That Funk.” But sitting down to write this piece, and listening again to all these great records... it’s enough to make me buy an international calling card and harass these cats for my free shit.
– Davis Rogan

A free Lee Oskar download

War was the only funk band to feature a harmonica prominently in the mix. The man blowing that harmonica was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. His name is Lee Oskar.

Oskar also put out a few albums under his own name. Let me point you to a FREE MP3 from a 2007 digital album called “The Best of Lee Oskar.”

To hear “La Playa” streaming on my Vox blog, click here.

To download it, you need to make a few moves. Go to the Lowrider Band website, click where it says “download,” then click where it says “mp3s.” You’ll see “La Playa” listed. (It’ll download as a ZIP file.)

So... what is the “Lowrider Band”? That’s the name under which most of War’s original members – including Oskar – now tour. (I don’t even wanna know about the legal nightmare surrounding rights to the name “War.”)

Lee Oskar has made such an impact with his instrument, he now manufactures and markets his own line of high-end harmonicas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Random wrongness

Average White Band

(UBM: As Funky Whiteboy Appreciation Week continues, I pass the mic to my friend DeAngelo Starnes, an online columnist at EbonyJet.com. He’s gonna take y’all back to the glory days.)

The Funk Age (1967-’82) produced arguably the greatest hits in the history of popular dance music. Specifically, as pertains to black dance music, the hits from this era still contain the power they had at the time they were out. Unlike music from the early days of rock ’n’ roll, Funk Age music didn’t date at all.

The peak of the Funk Age was 1972-’76. It just seemed that everything you heard on the radio was baad. One of the baadest bands producing black dance music was the Average White Band.

When AWB broke onto the scene with their monster hit “Pick Up the Pieces,” nobody black I knew thought the band was white. They sounded black and we embraced them with no regards to color. It was their sound that mattered.

They solidified their status with their next album’s hits of “Cut the Cake,” “School Boy Crush” and their brilliant interpretation of “If I Ever Lose This Heaven.” (I yearn for the days when a cover meant an interpretation as opposed to a replay of the original.)

For my money, “Soul Searching” was their apex and most consistent effort, although they didn’t have the monster hits from that piece.

AWB’s hits usually featured their two saxophones’ sound spiraling some hip shit in and around the beat. Just as baad is the interaction between the guitars... plus the back and forth between lead vocalists Hamish Stuart (pictured below) and Alan Gorrie.

But dig the twin bass interplay on the cut “Love Your Life.” (Click here to listen.) That’s Hamish Stuart playing lead bass filtered through a flanger and wah-wah. The dramatic horn break-down was sampled on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhyme.”

The twin bass breakdown afterwards with Hamish’s scream in the background is simply nasty. The slow pace of the cut emphasizes the disciplined musicianship bands from that era displayed. Ask any musician, playing slow is much harder than playing fast.

Speaking of slow, “slow cuts” (black-radio term for “love song”) can be funky too. AWB took it to the next level on “A Love of Your Own.” (Click here to listen.) The lead sound seems like another flanger but on the guitar this time. That was the thing in the ’70s, baad musicians playing with these effects toys. Roger Ball, who doubled as the keyboard player, plays a beautifully romantic solo on the alto saxophone.

And if you have the album or desire to purchase it, please check “Queen of My Soul,” which is my theme song when I get depressed. Malcolm Duncan tears it up on the tenor saxophone. Hamish is at his best expressing how critical music is to all of our lives. This song displays the versatility of 70s bands and how funky jazz (or how jazzy funk) could be.

I would recommend that any serious lover of Funk Age music purchase AWB’s “White Album” (“Person to Person” is a muthafucka), “Cut the Cake,” “Soul Searching” and their live album “Person to Person.”

(What happened to live albums anyway? They end with MTV’s Unplugged series? And talk about disciplined musicianship, check this live album and you’ll know how baad a band AWB is.)

When it comes to music, don’t discriminate. If you’re baad, you’re baad. By the way, the Average White Band used that label to diminish how baad they were. Hailing from Scotland, they felt they were performing on an “average” level compared to their black American soul music heroes. More than I can say for the Osmond Brothers, New Kids on the Block and Michael Bolton.
– DeAngelo Starnes