Yup, that’s Gregory Porter and I in September of 2012 at Yoshi’s in Oakland. He was touring extensively in Europe at the time, but almost never played in the U.S. (he’s from CA and lives in Brooklyn currently). When I heard he would be at Yoshi’s in Oakland, I bought a plane ticket. He’s that good.
The night pictured above was the BEST show I have ever seen in my life. I kid you not. He made everyone in the club cry at least once and I have never heard a standing ovation that lasted almost longer than the song itself! He is incredibly talented, a voice like smooth caramel with lyrics that have heart and soul at it’s highest level. The closest comparison I can give is Marvin Gaye for pure heart. His band is a world-class jazz band, the pianist especially blew me away.
Last year he won a Grammy, so now the gigs up, everybody knows about him, but I am telling you if you are in Europe and can see him there, or at one of his rare shows in the U.S., do EVERYTHING you can to see him. For me, he is the brightest star in the vocal universe today.
I merged two months together, because these band’s histories started parallel with my music history and each band has gone in different directions.
When I was in college at Syracuse University, it was my senior year in college and I really didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I was about to graduate from Syracuse with a degree in Photography, but didn’t have the passion for it (at least back then, I was doing studio photography in school) like I did for singing. In walks Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s one of those tours that went down in history as legendary. Fishbone had just released Truth & Soul and the Red Hot Chili Peppers had released Mother’s Milk. Both albums were genre and ground-breaking, and these guys were full of the kind of vigor and performance energy that only 20-something year old male musicians can muster. Both shows were phenomenal and being a young leggy girl I had no problem getting backstage to meet the bands.
The first people I met when I went backstage were Flea and Anthony, simultaneously, which is something I will never forget. They started doing something, I’m not sure what, with their tongues and such, they were way TOO much to deal with. Luckily Norwood Fisher, the bass player, and one of the founding members of Fishbone, saw me looking uncomfortable and saved me from them. We went to dinner on campus and began to talk about music. I’ve always been interested in the realities of being a touring musican and what they go through, so I started flooding him with questions and we started talking music. All night we had a wonderfully deep conversation about music and his experiences being a professional touring musician, continuing as we attended parties afterwards. We both agreed that music had chosen us, and we didn’t have much of a choice in it. Ever since that night, I was hooked.
At about 4am he told me that he was exhausted, I was still sitting in with bands and partying, so he took the keys to my house and left to crash at my place until he could find the rest of the band. I showed up at my place around 6am with some friends and he had already left, leaving the keys in the mailbox. I’ve never spoken to him again, but he changed the direction of my life permanently.
Thank you Norwood. As hard as it has been, I will always remember those two children crazy in love with music and the magical night I confirmed my decision to be a musician.
If you don’t know anything about Fishbone, you should. One of my favorite stories about them is when they had a showcase show at The Ritz in New York City and they had to go out there and blow away the A&R reps. They conspired to put tiger balm on their balls right before leaving the green room and went out there and got themselves a recording contract. That pretty much explains them onstage too. I stopped going to their shows because of the mosh-pits (no place for a gentle flower like me). At the shows I have seen, the band has been a mob of pure energy and outstanding musicianship. Unfortunately I discovered them when they put out their best album, “Truth and Soul”, and all of my favorite albums of theirs came beforehand. Originally they were an inventive ska band. Their first EP titled, “Fishbone” had such quirky classics as, “Ugly” and “Lyin’ Ass Bitch”, which The Roots recently played as walk on music for Michelle Bachmann on Jimmy Fallon… they got in trouble… it’s one of my favorite songs ever. Actually I love the whole album. The next one, “In Your Face” was great too, my favorites are the first three cuts and “In the Air”. I don’t know anybody that has their next album, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Then came “Truth and Soul”. It is an American masterpiece. It’s beautiful, full of optimism and energy, honest and concscious songs. I LOVE this album, one of my favorites of all time. Besides the big hit on the album, the remake of the Curtis Mayfield classic, “Freddie’s Dead”, there is also, “Ma and Pa”, a song I’ve been listening to since it came out, “Deep Inside”, “Bonin’ in the Boneyard”, “Subliminal Fascism”, “Ghetto Soundwave” and “Change”. All fantastic songs.
Chronologically, the last album I still own of theirs is “The Reality of My Surroundings”. This album has amazing work on it (it also featured John Bigham of “Soul of John Black”), “Fight the Youth”, “So Many Millions”, “Housework”, the masterpiece, “Pressure”, “Pray to the Junkiemaker”, and the big hit on the album and a lasting great song, “Everyday Sunshine” and also “Sunless Saturday” which features an intricate and powerful bass line by Norwood. All are outstanding songs, but on this album there was a hint of where they were heading with their next album, “Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe”, hard rock. Which is what the band has focused on ever since. It’s loud, aggressive and extremely masculine… not my thing. The irony is that the ska band that they were in the beginning has been copied by “No Doubt” and many other bands that did not have the chops nor originality that these guys have in their little toes. I just listened to their new album and it gave me a headache, no space nor groove, emphasis on lyrics, just agressive rock. If you like that, you’ll like them, they are still great musicians… but I miss the old Fishbone. Oh well, having met Norwood only briefly I can tell you, he is doing exactly what he loves.
Then there is the other side of the coin. Those super aggressive overly masculine guys that got in my face backstage have completely mellowed and matured into a bad-ass funk-rock-jazz band. I just went on Red Hot Chili Peppers website and most of their Pepsi Center level shows are sold out. And thankfully, they are that good. Their new album, “I’m With You” is brilliant. It’s my favorite since “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”. They even won the Grammy a few years ago for best album. They are a great band all around, each one has been exceptional at evolving their piece of the pie, but it is Flea (I believe) that has helped to bring them to long-run super-stardom. I read Anthony Keidis’s book, “Scar Tissue” and it is an uncomfortable read. The quick summary is that he has been addicted to heroin since the beginning of his career until the last few years and riding up and down into the tunnels under the bridge with him is not so pleasant.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are much more well-known, so I won’t go into them with as much depth. If you don’t know about them, get “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” first, then the new album. There is not too much stuff that they have put out that sucks, after all, Flea is on all of the albums! Personally I like, “Mother’s Milk”, “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”, “Stadium Arcadium” and” I’m With You” the most. On their Wikipedia page there is a timeline that gives you some sense of the tumultous history of the guitarists. They have been a rather troubled band, riddled with drug use, member’s dying and overdosing, but yet they sell-out the Pepsi Center today free of drugs and kicking-ass as always on stage… good story. I just can’t wait to read Flea’s book about it.
Soooo… why, are these equally talented bands in such different places today? There is a new documentary about Fishbone that was just released last week (1/6/12) called, “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone” so maybe we’ll all find out…
Here’s another musician that is one of my absolute favorites of all time. In fact I don’t know of a singer that wouldn’t put her in their top 5 singers of all time. She’s just about the best singer you could imagine. I heard her on the radio in a store recently and one beat into the vocals of the song I knew who it was. Her voice had an ease matched with complexity that no other singer has ever been capable of. The combination of her incredible instrument, advanced musicality and childlike tone endeared her to everyone. I have tried to cover a few songs that she was famous for and every time I fall flat on what I hear in my head compared to what comes out of my mouth. She has an incredibly relaxed way of singing that can make you lose track of the fact that her chops are unparalleled. Stevie Wonder wrote in his song, “Sir Duke”…
"Music knows it is and always will
Be one of the things that life just won’t quit
But here are some of music’s pioneers
That time will not allow us to forget
For there’s Basie, Miller, Satchmo
And the king of all Sir Duke
And with a voice like Ella’s ringing out
There’s no way the band can lose"
Ella started her career like Otis Redding being recognized for her talent everywhere she played. Her first performance singing was at the legendary Apollo in Harlem and Benny Carter, the great horn player and band leader was in the audience. Immediately he heard the talent that was performing before him. He introduced Ella to many people, but the one that launched her career was the legendary drummer and band leader Chick Webb. Unfortunately Chick died the year after their huge hit together, “A Tisket-A Tasket”. She began her solo career and by the mid-1950s, she was solidly the top jazz singer in the world. Ella’s name was “The First Lady of Song,” and she remained the most popular American female jazz singer for over fifty years. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums, and that was too few accolades to express how unique a talent she truly was.
She had a tough time in life, losing her mother when she was only 15 years old and never finding true love. She married twice and both times it ended in divorce. In her latter years her diabetes took away her voice and her legs. She is a talent that comes around only every hundred years or so, like Aretha Franklin she had the equipment, and the skill to make some of the greatest recordings of the American songbooks ever heard. My favorite is “Love You Madly” a rarer cut from a CD I have called “Love Songs: Best of the Song Books”. I picked that as my favorite CD, but slowly growing as one of my favorites is “Ella & Friends” (thanks to my old friend Diana) where she sings with some amazing talent.
Ella once said, “The only thing better than singing is more singing.” Agreed, especially when it’s her doing the work!
The Soul of John Black has been rocking my world for a while now. I got the album “Black John” when it was released, and it’s been a staple in my playlist for 2 years now… I never tire of it! It’s original yet firmly rooted in the blues and soul and dripping with funk… and that’s the kind of music I love!
So, first off let’s clear up some confusion that took me a while to work out. The guy pictured here is John Bigham. He played with Fishbone (one of my favorite bands ever) and Miles Davis. The Soul of John Black is him. It started as a band, but then he took it from there. Until about 3 months ago the only CD I owned of his was the one pictured below, “Black John”… I didn’t know there were any others. Then Bill Shannon played another one for me (not sure which one it was) and I delved deeper. I now own all of his albums (there are 4 total) and I haven’t heard a bad cut yet (although “Black John” is still his masterpiece in my opinion… so far anyway).
In August he visited Colorado, playing Quixotes and the Keystone Blues Festival. I couldn’t go to either, which killed me. He is currently touring promoting his newest album, “Good Thang”. My favorite cut on the new album so far is, “Lil Mama’s in the Kitchen”. But this man has so much raw talent and style, that I just love everything he does.
The Soul of John Black is signed to the record label, “Yellow Dog Records” (same as Eden Brent) and is considered a blues artist. I feel strongly that if we are to ‘keep the blues alive’, then the music needs to be alive. As most of you reading this know, I am oft considered a blues artist, but then people will swear I’m not bluesy enough. To clarify, few artists think of themselves in the boxes that are genres anyway, it’s really only used as a label for record execs to market artists with. If you love music enough to make a career out of it, then you love all music and so the lines will always be crossed. This man is really a purest blues guitarist, but there is nothing he is playing that sounds like anything you have heard before in the blues. So I especially encourage you blues purists out there to listen to his work and recognize a truly original artist taking the next step for music while keeping the blues firmly at the heart of his music.
Anyway, I’m off my soapbox now… I just think this man is showing us the future of blues-ish music and I think this man and his music deserve a TON more attention than they are getting currently. I think it’s the name perhaps, it is confusing… is he Black John, is he John Black… etc. It screwed me up for a while, so now that I’ve cleared it all up for you… go buy his music and enjoy!
Ahhh my moments at Amoeba Music. Amoeba Music is my musical mecca. The original store is in Berkeley where one of my best friends and bass player in Sideways, Scott Arnold lived just down the street from. We reveled in meeting there and finding rare CDs in the many aisles of music. The jazz collection in Berkeley was among the finest I’ve ever seen… and then it opened in the city. When I moved to San Francisco I lived on Haight Street (above Escape from New York Pizza) for two years. At the time there was a bowling alley just down the street that I never went to. Then when I moved out of the Haight, Amoeba bought the bowling alley and converted it into the largest and most amazing CD store that I have ever visited.
When you enter the San Francisco Amoeba Music there is a distinct sounds that greets you… click, click, click, click. It’s the sound of hundreds of people sifting through CDs reflecting off the vaulted concrete ceilings of the old bowling alley. What lays before you is an education in music. I have studied music not by theory and instrumentation, but through music itself. If I want to understand funk music I read about it, ask people that listen to it what their favorites are, and then I head to Amoeba to begin my listening pleasure. There are very few CDs that I purchase new. The trick to Amoeba is that it is so large and famous in the Bay Area that people come from all around to sell their music to the store. Store credit usually gets you from $1 to $8 for a CD, but usually about $6. This is good money to turn around and get new music that you like more than the stuff you just traded in, and so this incredibly rewarding recycling of music goes.
Thanks to Amoeba, my CD collection has been refined again and again. There is nothing in my collection that I am not proud to have in there… and if there is I sell it back and get something better. Perhaps I am old school about my music (not totally or I would have vinyl!), I like my CDs, the covers, the information, the pictures, lyrics, etc. I also like to pay musicians for their work and cherish the great stuff. I also have the pleasure of DJ-ing on KGNU (88.5FM) for the “Dusty Grooves” show (Fridays 9pm to 11pm) which requires CDs.
This section is called “Favorites” and I just couldn’t leave out Amoeba. Without it (and all of my knowledgeable friends) I would know nothing of the great musicians in the world. In fact I still buy all of my CDs from Amoeba when I go on my regular trips to San Francisco, because there is no place in the world like it. If you are in Berkeley, Hollywood, or the Haight in SF, stop by and you will see what I mean… happy digging!
Here is a photo of the store which took over a converted bowling alley on Haight Street. This picture shows less than a third of the store!
I don’t know how many of you know about Gil’s music. You might know he died on Friday, May 27, 2011 (last Friday). I came home late that night exhausted after a three set gig, and I got an email with just the link to his obituary in the New York Times. I had a long long moment of silence wondering whether his death at the early age of 62 was welcome to his soul or not. How could I know. For me this man could do no wrong. I bought tickets to see him 5 times and he only showed up twice. Both of those shows were memories I will always cherish.
The story I tell the most about him was meeting him after a show. He was signing CDs after a show in Oakland and I don’t usually get autographs, but there was no hesitation for me jumping in line. As I waited I contemplated what brilliant thing I would say to make me stand out amongst his fans and let him know that I REALLY was one of his biggest fans. Finally I stepped up to him with his newest CD, “Spirits” and as he signed it I stammered, “I have all of your albums!”… which is true, but I thought I was being original at the time… until I heard it come out of my mouth. I often tell that story when I talk about being genuinely “star-struck”, that’s the only time I can think of that it’s happened… and I’ve met some serious cats. I have long wanted to cover his song, “Winter in America”, especially during the Shrub Era, (but could never sing the song without his infamous warbled inflection) and told him that as well, he gave me a big smile and said, “Cool.” From “Winter in America”…
"And I see the robins
Perched in barren treetops
Watching last-ditch racists marching across the floor
But just like the peace sign that vanished in our dreams
Never had a chance to grow
Never had a chance to grow And now it’s winter
It’s winter in America
And all of the healers have been killed
Yeah, but the people know, people know
It’s winter, Lord knows
It’s winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting
Cause nobody knows what to savec Save your souls"
– from 'Winter in America'
Gil is most famous for “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” a song’s title that has been permanently embedded into the American lexicon, almost everything in our culture “will” or “will not be” televised. He was a brilliant musician, singer and most of all wordsmith. I say this because there was no format that he delivered his words in that did not pierce the heart. He knew how to get to the core of any issue, he saw through the veil, and he put it to words with forceful and masterful talent. My favorite song of his, is “Pieces of a Man”. The song narrates a story through the eyes of a boy watching his father fall apart when he loses his job. I had the immense pleasure of seeing him perform this song (which he never did live) in Oakland. A woman had explained how much the song meant to her and touched him so much that he performed it. There was literally not one dry eye in the house by the end of the song, including his. From “Pieces of a Man”…
"Jagged jigsaw pieces
Tossed about the room
I saw my grandma sweeping
With her old straw broom
But she didn’t what she was doing
She could hardly understand
That she was really sweeping up...
– from 'Pieces of a Man'
'Pieces of a Man', the song is the title song to one of the greatest albums of all time. It also contained “Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, “When You Are Who You Are”, “Save the Children”, “Lady Day and John Coltrane”, “I Think I’ll Call it Morning”, “A Sign of the Ages”, “The Needles Eye” and of course “Pieces of a Man”, all beautifully melodic heart warming songs. In fact I think I named almost every song on the album except “The Prisoner” which is dark, even for me. Starting with that album in 1971 he turned out 9 albums with his musical parnter, Brian Jackson. Brian is a keyboardist, flautist and composer, with an exceptional quality in his voice that harmonizes wonderfully with Gil’s deep tone. I saw him perform at only one of the shows that I saw, but the flute, the harmonies and Brian’s influence are intertwined in the sounds of some of my favorite albums.
A few of those albums are, “First Minute of a New Day”, “It’s Your World” and “Spirits”. “Spirits” is an album that he put out in 1994 with three songs that I hold up to the quality of his earlier work, “Don’t Give Up”, “Work for Peace” and “Spirits” (the title track). Also worth mentioning on that album is “Message to the Messagers”. In this song he addresses the reputation he has as the “Godfather of Hip-Hop”. He is one of the stronger roots if you dig down into the underground of the hip-hop tree. Here’s the beginning of the song as he talks to the rappers that have rightly held him high…
"Hey, yeah, we the same brothas from a long time ago
We was talkin’ about television and doin’ it on the radio
What we did was to help our generation realize
They got to get out there and get busy cause it ain’t gonna be televised
We got respect for you rappers and the way they be free-weighin’
But if you’re gon’ be teachin’ folks things, make sure you know what you’re sayin’
Older folks in our neighborhood got plenty of know-how
Remember if it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t be out here now
And I ain’t comin’ at you with no disrespect
All I’m sayin’ is that you damn well got to be correct
Because if you’re gonna be speakin’ for a whole generation
And you know enough to try and handle their education
Be sure you know the real deal about past situations
And ain’t just repeatin’ what you heard on the local TV stations
Sometimes they tell lies and put ’em in a truthful disguise
But the truth is that’s why we said it wouldn’t be televised
They don’t know what to say to our young folks, but they know that you do
And if they really knew the truth…why would they tell you?
The first sign is peace, tell all them gun totin’ young brothas
That the man is glad to see us out there killin’ one another
We raised too much hell when they was shootin’ us down
So they started poisoning our minds and tryin’ to jerk us all around
And then they tell us they got to come in and control our situation
They want half of us on dope and the other half in incarceration
If the ones they want dead ain’t killed by what they instigated
They put some dope on a brotha’s body and claim it was drug related
Tell them drug related means there don’t need to be no investigation
Or at least that’s the way they’re gon’ play it on the local TV station"
– from 'Message to the Messagers'
It’s hard for me to write about Gil without mentioning the darker side of his life. His work is often self-eviscerating in discussing his drug addiction. What was Gil addicted to? I don’t know, he hints at (and was busted for possession of) cocaine, crack, heroine, but whatever it was, at times it swept him away. When he died he was on tour promoting a new album, “I’m New Here”, that had electronica behind his singing. On this album you could hear the culmination of the years of leaving himself behind in his voice. I didn’t really like it, but I would definitely have gone to see him perform it. There are only a handful of people that I hold as high as Gil that I have seen live. There was a presence to this man that words cannot do justice to. He could see. He was fearless in telling what he saw. He was supremely gifted in his abilities to form words together. He was brilliant. Yet he could not hold it together in life. This is from “Home is Where the Hatred Is”…
home is where i live inside my white powder dreams
home was once an empty vacuum that’s filled now with my silent screams
home is where the needle marks
try to heal my broken heart
and it might not be such a bad idea if i never, if i never went home again
kick it, quit it
kick it, quit it
kick it, quit it
kick it, can’t go home again
– from 'Home is Where the Hatred Is'
Once I was backstage with George Martin (the producer for The Beatles) and he said something to me about John Lennon that I will never forget, “John could not accept the world the way it was, he was never happy, I would say to him, John that’s just the way the world is and he would just look at me with that intensity he had and say, ‘But it’s wrong!'”. I know Gil was tortured like this as well… so to Gil, I genuinely, with all my heart pray that you are long last at peace my brother, you changed this world as much as you could for the better, and it was a LOT. Sleep soundly. In your own words, from the title track off of “Spirits”…
Our lives are like treasures unveiled as fiction
A gift to us from the spirits on high
Equator, divider, equate us, and combine us
To seek the answers beyond our side
– from 'Spirits'
Bob Marley, like Jimi Hendrix is such an integral part of my life and music, that I almost forgot to put him in my favorites! First off I would like to start with the elephant in the room concerning Bob. He smoked marijuana. It was part of his religion, which I do not believe to be the most coherent religion, but he smoked pot. Please, whomever is reading this little blog of mine, please stop making Bob into a marijuana icon! I can’t take it any more. There are SO many things about Bob Marley that are phenomenal and his life seems to have boiled down to being a code for pot smoking… and in my opinion, that is a great disservice to this man.
So let’s move on about Bob, like Jimi, he is an icon and because of this everyone knows a little bit about him. Well, hopefully you are about to find out something new… this is my rather extensive entry about the Honorable Bob Marley…
Bob Marley was born to bridge the gaps of human culture. Coming from the union of a black country woman living in the Jamaican countryside and a colonialist white English man, Bob was born out of the reflected tension of the world culture in 1945. His mother married Captain Norval Marley and the next day he deserted her for life. This lack of having a father figure and also being born into the rich magical country culture of Jamaica had strong effects upon Bob’s path. The father figure in his life, his grandfather, Omeriah, was an obeah man. Obeah is a kind of Jamaican shamanism that practices healing through herbs, use of visions to translate the spirit world for others, and they are therefore leaders of the community. Bob was attacked by “duppies”, or ghosts and bad spirits throughout his life, but especially in his formative years. Bob was also struck in his youth with a series of life-threatening diseases that his grandfather foresaw in his dreams. Bob’s wife Rita was around him for years, but it was on a night when she was attacked by “duppies” while laying in his bed that brought their relationship towards inseparability.
Bob was, at the insistence of his father, forced to go to Trenchtown, Jamaica at the tender age of 5 years old without his mother. When he arrived he was picked up by his father, but then “Nesta”, as he was called in his youth, was deserted in the care of his father’s friend for almost a year with his mother having no idea as to where her son was. When Bob was about 7 years old his mother moved him down to Kingston with his best friend Bunny Livingston (who later changed his name to Bunny Wailer in 1976). And so Bob’s years in the deep ghettos of Kingston began. The roughness of the Kingston ghetto cannot be over-stated. Bob was small and of mixed race, so he learned to keep rude-boys and ruffians away from him by getting the reputation as “Tuff Gong”, the unbeatable fighter.
At the young age of 16 he recorded his first song… “Judge Not”, taking advantage of the quick recording studios popping up everywhere around Kingston. It wasn’t a hit, but from this first single Bob had determined his style and purpose. As he does repeatedly throughout his career, he quotes the Bible in his lyrics, “Judge not lest ye be judged”, but modernizes the chorus to say “Judge not, before you judge yourself, judge not, If you’re not ready for judgement”. His first number one hit in Jamaica, “Simmer Down” was a plea to the fighting “rude boys” in Jamaica to stop their fighting and warring. This was another one of the main themes in Bob’s music, social consciousness. Jamaican culture at the time was ridden with violence, corruption and racial and class tensions that were on the verge of exploding. Bob had a gift, to speak about deep and meaningful subjects, yet put them into a catchy and musically strong format so that they are good on every level.
Another great contribution of Bob’s was to make Rastafarianism a legitimate worldwide religion. Bob did not take to Rastafari right away. Many of the musicians in his band and his wife had already accepted Rastafari as their religion. His wife Rita Marley converted to Rastafari when she had a mystical experience involving Haile Selassie, (the Emperor of Ethiopia and Messianic figure for Rastafari) while he was visiting Jamaica. Rastafari is an interesting mix of specific New Testament ideals and traditional African culture. The religion is infused with the smoking of marijuana and the mystical revelations that come with smoking sacredly. It could also be summarized as a religion that, while very scattered in it’s ideals is a religion of lifting the oppressed. One of the primary tenants of Rastafari is to tear down Babylon, or in their translation, the oppressive culture. Bob Marley’s “Positive Vibration”, like so many of his songs, speaks of unity and positivity. His music is inclusive and peaceful, and that mentality has wrongly, and to it’s betterment, been associated with Rastafari.
After the Wailers (the name of his original band starring Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh) had become the most popular band in Jamaica around 1964 with their hit, “Simmer Down”, Bob began to look outward to the rest of the world. In 1966 he married his girlfriend and back-up singer with the group “I-Threes” (then called the Soulettes), Rita Marley. Then he left for the United States. While in Delaware living with his mother and her new husband he earned enough money to come back to Jamaica with an electric guitar and money to record more songs. During this period The Wailers recorded with Lee “Scratch” Perry and built up their material to the level of being able to play outside of Jamaica. Their popularity grew in Jamaica and they became one of the most sought after groups in the country. Then in 1973 they signed to Island Records. With a major record deal and Chris Blackwell (president of Island) backing them artistically they made their first full length album called “Catch a Fire”. On the cover of “Catch a Fire” Bob Marley shows short dreadlocks and a gigantic joint or “spliff” burning. Immediately looking and feeling different than anything else on the market anywhere except Jamaica at the time. As a point of reference, the top 100 Billboard hit of 1973 was Tony Orlando/Dawn’s “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Ole Oak Tree. The songs were rebel songs, songs of change and truth.
On “Slave Driver” Bob Marley croons…
“Every time I hear the crack of a whip, my blood runs cold
I remember on the slave ship how they brutalize the very souls
Day they say that we are free, only to be chained in poverty
Good god I think it’s illiteracy, it’s only machine that make money
Slave driver, the table is turned, catch a fire, you’re gonna get burned”
Also on Burnin’, “400 Years” written with Peter Tosh, declares that the 400 years of oppression are done with…
“The youth is gonna be strong.
So, wont you come with me
I’ll take you to a land of liberty
Where we can live – live a good, good life
And be free.
Look how long: 400 years – Way too long!
That’s the reason my people – my people can’t see”
On this album Bob Marley and The Wailers were clear. The time for the oppression of the African people was at an end. This was an incredibly healing and profound album at this time. To speak of the slave ships openly and in song, was unheard of in a major music release. In 1973 people were technically free, but the emotional and mental scars after the systematic oppression of an entire race for 400 years, they ran deep. The Wailers, with Bob leading the way declared that the time had changed. The youth were not going to take it, they no longer feared the oppressor, and the opressor no longer wished to carry their burden either, at this union slavery truly began to be abolished. This album and these words brought Bob and the Wailers instant recognition. They spoke the truth and it resonated throughout the world.
The next album that came out was pure spirit and rebel soul, “Burnin” (my personal favorite). More gospel than anything else are, “Hallelujah Time”, “Put It On”, “Small Axe”, “Rastaman Chant” and “Pass It On”. The latter is one of the most spiritual songs and by far my favorite Bob Marley song, here are the lyrics to that song...
What your hands do
It’s your own eyes that’ve seen
So won’t you judge your actions
To make sure the results are clean?
It’s your own conscience
That is gonna remind you
That it’s your heart and nobody else’s
That is gonna judge
Be not selfish in your doings
Pass it on. (pass it on, children)
Help your brothers (help them) in their needs
Pass it on
Live for yourself and you will live in vain
Live for others, you will live again
In the kingdom of Jah
Man shall reign
Pass it on, Pass it on, Pass it on What’s in the darkness
Must be revealed to light
We’re not here to judge what’s good from bad
But to do the things that are right.
On a hot, sunny day
Follow the shadows for rescue
But as the day grows old
I know the sun is gonna find you
Be not selfish in your doings
Pass it on
Help your brothers in their needs
Pass it on
Live for yourself, you will live in vain
Live for others, you will live again
In the kingdom of Jah
Man shall reign
Pass it on, Pass it on, Pass it on
Bob Marley’s very first songs showed his strong sense of service to his country, his heritage, his spiritual path and music. In this early song by The Wailers, Bob sings about good basic spiritual ideals that should be practiced by all people seeking personal freedom. These beautifully sung and harmonized songs are full of devotion, positivity, love for God and lessons that saved my life in some of my darkest times. Even some of his most popular songs in years to come, “No Woman No Cry”, “Lively Up Yourself”, “One Love”, “Redemption Song”, “Sun is Shining” and “Three Little Birds” are brimming with universal truths of freedom for all people and also pass on a deep enjoyment of life. In total Bob composed approximately 130 songs and only a few are not deep driving works with intense social, spiritual and love-oriented lyrics.
Peter and Bunny couldn’t take the pressures of touring and dropped out of the Wailers after “Burnin'”. This left Bob and the Wailers to create their next album, “Natty Dread”. This album contained “No Woman, No Cry” and from this point forward Bob Marley was an international superstar. His messages of hope, freedom for all and universal truths connected with people throughout the world like no artist ever had before. Every year from then on Bob toured throughout the world supporting a new album each time.
Jamaica was Bob’s home and he stayed at the now famous 56 Hope Road house whenever he was not touring. The complexities of Jamaican life and it’s corruption were never far away for Jamaica’s most famous spokesman however. On December 3, 1976 Bob, Rita and his manager Don Taylor and a friend were all victims of an assassination attempt on Bob’s life. None of the people shot on that day died thankfully, in fact Bob still attended a concert two days later with his arm in a sling. When asked why he attended a rally that was seen in support for Michael Manley (leader of the Jamaican Labour Party and one of the two warring factions), Marley responded, “the people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”.
In 1978 Bob was in Jamaica for the free One Love Peace Concert on April 22, 1978. This concert was held in an attempt to qualm a civil war in Jamaica from the two warring parties, the People’s National Party run by Michael Manley and the Jamaican Labour Party, run by Edward Seaga. The two party system and it’s blatant corruption have continually been a source of violence in Jamaica.
At the concert during the song, “Jammin'”, in a moment of what can only be described as religious ecstasy Bob begins dancing and yelling out “Unite” and “The moon is high over head and I give my love instead”, etc.. At the end of this dance men haul one of the leaders on stage and the other walks on stage to either side of Bob Marley. Bob takes their hands and links them together raising them above his head, putting his hand out and saying “Love”. This has always been considered not only a major event in the life of Bob Marley, but perhaps in music. For Bob at this time, understanding the climate and the culture of Jamaica… it was revolutionary.
From there Bob’s life was one of emancipation by song. He toured the world with his band and took a greater interest in Africa and helping the people there. In 1977 he got a wound on his foot playing soccer that never really healed. When it was diagnosed as having a malignant melanoma, and in need of amputation, he refused amputation, as he did not believe in having the body altered through modern medicine. On September 30, 1980 he played his final concert and although attempting to cure the cancer in Germany, died on May 11, 1981.
Bob Marley is what I aspire to, to make music alive with the sounds of our collective pain being released, to force the things that we know but don’t speak of into the light so that we can move beyond them, to reinterpret the great spiritual works of old into something that is accessible and fun for people to understand today. I was not brought up Christian and I didn’t know sayings from the Bible. Bob was my first religion, I heard what he said and it rung so true to me that it changed the course of my life.
Bob lifted the veil of tribalism and showed it for what it was, unhealthy for all of us equally. For me one of the most important aspects is that he did it through music. Music belonged in our leisure before him, yet somehow he could make this grinding bitter change of our collective history sound beautiful and make you want to join in the fight. Bob took a very large step for all of us through his music and his life, and his legacy lives on through many, including me, a child of Jah, from the day I first heard him sing. One love.
Well if I’m gonna break the rules! This is an album that is one of my favorites of all time and was also the primary inspiration for the band that I had in San Francisco, Sideways. It’s considered a Joni Mitchell album, but it is as much Joni’s as it is Jaco Pastorius’ greatest work in my opinion. I’m actually not a big fan of Joni Mitchell’s early folk work. It’s not that it isn’t great, it is, but it’s not my style. It’s soprano singing, folk-style and I’m much more of a low-end heavy on the bass and drums kinda lady. Let me say however that Joni Mitchell is without parallel the most gifted female musician of our times… no contest.
This masterpiece however, is in my top 5 favorite albums of all time. For me it broke musical barriers more than any other album that I still enjoy listening to. Joni is quoted as saying that before Jaco she was always fenced in by the bass and when she met Jaco Pastorius and they played together it was like a whole new world of music opened for her. Ask any great bass player and they would probably say that about Jaco in regards to his bass playing in general. Both of their styles of playing guitar and bass are unique and advanced in tunings and skill beyond almost anyone of the era, yet the songs are all melodically beautiful.
However, Joni really stole my heart with her lyrics on this album. Like her I have trounced the country with four wheels purring underneath me introspecting and trying to get a grip on my chaotic life in whatever city I was living in at the time. I often hoped that I could understand why my heart had been broken again through the distance that the wheels gave me from responsibility, and like her it has always been romantic, beautiful and defines some of the most important moments in my life. This is my number one album choice for road trips. The beautiful meeting of Joni and Jaco’s playing coupled with these lyrics make it very special. Here are the lyrics to the title song, which are a beautiful poetry of travel…
I’m traveling in some vehicle
I’m sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shock love away
There’s comfort in melancholy
When there’s no need to explain
It’s just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today
In our possessive coupling
So much could not be expressed
So now I’m returning to myself
These things that you and I suppressed
I see something of myself in everyone
Just at this moment of the world
As snow gathers like bolts of lace
Waltzing on a ballroom girl
You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line
Now here’s a man and a woman sitting on a rock
They’re either going to thaw out or freeze
Strains of Benny Goodman
Coming through the snow and the pinewood trees
I’m porous with travel fever
But you know I’m so glad to be on my own
Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
Can set a trembling in my bones
I know – no one’s going to show me everything
We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone
Well I looked at the granite markers
Those tributes to finality – to eternity
And then I looked at myself here
Chicken scratching for my immortality
In the church they light the candles
And the wax rolls down like tears
There’s the hope and the hopelessness
I’ve witnessed thirty years
We’re only particles of change I know, I know
Orbiting around the sun
But how can I have that point of view
When I’m always bound and tied to someone
White flags of winter chimneys
Waving truce against the moon
In the mirrors of a modern bank
From the window of a hotel room
I’m traveling in some vehicle
I’m sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
Until love sucks me back that way
I have never stopped enjoying listening to this song from the moment I first heard it until now. It is a rich, rich song. My favorite song is definitely “Black Crow” a song I consider my personal anthem. Another favorite song on the album is Coyote. In Native American traditions the coyote is the trickster, Loki, the one that makes you trip and fall over and over until you can laugh at yourself. This song conveys that idea in it’s verbal and melodic poetry. One cannot travel this breathtakingly beautiful country’s back roads and not feel closer to the Native people of our country that lived here for centuries before our arrival, and it has been a big part of my travels as well.
I could go on and on about this album, there is not a song on it that I don’t love. There is pure magic between Jaco and Joni and we have a richer musical world for them getting together. They have another album together, Mingus, which is good (especially “The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey” a mood piece that gives me chills), but didn’t come close to the complete picture that this album did.
Recently I talked to Scott Arnold, my old bass player in Sideways, and my Jaco wannabe to me Joni wannabe (Hejira was the star we pointed to). He reminded me of something. I have been discouraged with my music career lately. The people I play with are always playing in other bands and I can’t book my band, the clubs have seemed more absurd and arrogant than normal, I’m exhausted and questioning what I should do with being an artist in present day America. It’s a musician’s darkness, am I loved enough to keep doing this? Jasco (another of my musical partners) recently emailed his blog on this same subject and resolved his crisis by remembering the great magic that lies in music and how much it has meant to him. Scott and Jasco reminded me of the other part in music that I adore, partnership in music, a partnership that Joni and Jaco found in mastery. Music is about the magic of the music and the lyrics connecting with people, that it works together on the fly late into the night, that there is a partnership that works between people, and most of all, just throwing my head back and singing straight from the Soul, music is magic Jasco, and it is always getting better Scott, although sometimes it is hard to see…. I have wonderful partners, past and present to remind me. Thank you Jaco and Joni for weaving this album (which got horible reviews when it was released, by the way!) through my life!
So I know that I normally cover artists in this section, but I was gonna do Trampled Under Foot this month and then Blues Revue had them on the cover, so I needed to do something different. I am a musician biography junkie. I have always said that “Behind the Music” on VH1 was the most Buddhist show on the air. I remember watching Poison, or some hair band that I dislike, and when I watched their biography I had total empathy for them. The story made all my dislike fade away. I believe that if you know someones story you can’t help but like them, which for me is very Buddhist. Everyone is a complex system of events and reactions to them and often, as was the case with Poison, when people are taking something lightly they often know it. So I love to read people’s stories. There are hundreds of books I have read on music and nothing, I mean NOTHING comes close to Quincy Jones’ autobiography.
The last time Delores Scott visited she was staying with me and she was finishing the book. I asked her how it was and she said, “unbelievably good, you have to read this, his stories are incredible”. She was not kidding. This book is interesting on every single page. Whether it is just his story in general which is quite amazing, or moments in his life, like when he was in the studio working on Thriller with Michael Jackson and Steven Spielberg approached him to write the soundtrack for E.T. and he is trying to figure out how to do both (which he does)! I knew alot about Q going into this book, I thought, but I had no idea just how deep his hands were in pretty much everything great about American music in the last 50 years.
Here is a brief list of artists and other entertainment that have hugely influenced me and every one of their careers was directed by Q… Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, The Brothers Johnson, Mad TV, Roots, VIBE magazine. Having grown up on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and many other of the works that he has received 27 Grammy Awards for, after you read this book you just want to say THANK YOU to him for being so incredibly passionate about music.
Throughout the book you get a sense of his own wonderment at his life, as if he was watching a play from afar. He is kind to people and extremely likeable. Although he is obviously often lucky, his success has more to do with being an incredibly driven man that often sacrificed family and relationships for the perfection of the music that he made on his own and with others. He also has a new book out, The Quincy Jones Legacy Series: Q on Producing, which I think I will read as well. Anyway, I don’t want to ruin the book for anyone, but I cannot recommend any book I have ever read on music higher than I can this one… you will not be able to put it down!
Yeah, I’m taking it back… you know from the photo, if you don’t know who they are, we are talking the late 80s, early 90s and we’re talking hip-hop. Back in 1992 when I was living in San Francisco I worked at a bike shop called Start to Finish and met a guy named Ara… you know him as the star of the song I wrote and perform regularly, “What’s Wrong with Me”. So our first conversation was in the back of the bike shop, we were talking about music as I often do, very opinionatedly. I like to get conversations started is all… so I said something along the lines of, “Hip-hop is not music” and Ara rightfully blew-up at me and started listing off reasons that it was the best and most vibrant music alive. Up until then I had heard the stuff on the radio and it was misogynistic, mostly machismo posing and more yelling than music. Well the argument ended when Ara played Eric B. & Rakim’s second album, “Follow the Leader”. I think my reply was, “Now that’s music!”. It’s 2011 and I have been playing it continually since then, that’s how good it is. This album changed my opinion of hip-hop, and I am a huge fan of the genre to this day.
Eric B. is pictured on the left and he is the baddest, most brilliant man ever to take to the turntables. On the right is Rakim who is (in my opinion) THE finest rapper who’s ever lived. Their skill levels are through the roof. We’re talking about lyrical skills that I am still trying to emulate and cannot even say the words that fast, much less that smoothly and that lyrically. There is a laid-backness to his delivery and they are great lyrics to start with. Their first album, “Paid in Full” was a hip-hop icon, everyone who hit a dance floor in the 90’s or 00’s has heard the remix of the title track, “Paid In Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness – The Coldcut Remix)” starting with “This is a journey into sound… pump up the volume, pump up the volume, pump that baby…”, it’s a great album, if a bit sparse and raw. For me the masterpiece is their second album, “Follow the Leader”, starting with the title track. Out of the gate you know this album has got POWER. This is one of my top ten favorite hip-hop tunes of all time. It’s great for skiing to as well, it’s just sheer power and force, but as always with this duo, even though it’s subject is the same braggadicio that you hear in every rap tune, it’s done skillfully, intelligently and with immense flow. If there has ever been a song that I would use to explain what lyrical skills are, it would be this one. The second song is my personal get psyched tune, “Microphone Fiend”, because...
“I was a fiend, before I became a teen, I melted microphones instead of cones of ice cream…”.
I know a lot of you (like my Mom who keeps telling me to turn it down as I listen to their work while writing this) do not like hip-hop and I respect that, but I do ask that you not take what is on the radio as hip-hop. It sucks, it’s just the worst drivel in the world. The videos are horrible and even some of the people that are the most lauded today in hip-hop have less skill than Rakim has in his pinky. So I ask you to open your mind, take a moment and listen to a few cuts off this fantastic album and listen for the music, because there is a whole lot of it in it. Now don’t get me wrong, some of it is as dated as it gets, it’s old, but it was the birth of hip-hop becoming more substantial. Like Grandmaster Flash’s, “The Message”, or KRS-One’s “Return of the Boom Bap”, these albums gave hip-hop some substantial skills and intelligence to stand on. If you like it at all, or are interested in finding more great hip-hop check out artists like, Black Star, or their solo work, Mos Def (Black on Both Sides is another masterpiece) and Talib Kweli, Blackilicious, Jurassic 5, The Roots, Outkast (especially their older stuff), A Tribe Called Quest, Fugees & Lauryn’s famous solo album, Goodie Mob, Mystic, Bahamadia (probably the baddest female rapper alive), Brand Nubian, Arrested Development, De La Soul, Common, Dead Prez (very political & intelligent though often flawed with racism), Guru… and don’t forget to take it all the way back to Gil Scott-Heron.
There is great hip-hop out there, unfortunately you have to dig a little deeper in hip-hop than you do in most genres to find the good stuff. Maybe it’s a sign of the desperate times in the music industry, when the record companies are so in need of profit that they will go with the oldest adage in advertising to make a profit, “sex sells”. Unfortunately hip-hop has been the greatest victim of this and I think because of it people do not give the music the credit it deserves. I love poetry and this music can be steeped in intelligence, skill, passion and musical genius just as much as any other genre, so give it a try, put some Eric B. & Rakim, Follow the Leader on your MP3 player and hopefully you too will find out why I love it so much.
Otis Redding… he’s one of the baddest singers to ever live (period). The consummate performer, voice and man, Otis Redding is a man that stands tall among the other fantastic soul singers of that rich time in American soul singing. Most of you know that he died tragically in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. Before he left us he gave us soul music like none other.
The story of Otis Redding coming to the limelight is a fun one. Otis was the singer, and on this day, driver for Johnny Jenkins, a blues guitarist of the time. He drove Johnny up to the Stax recording studios and according to Steve Cropper (the guitarist for Booker T & the MGs, Stax-Volt’s house band in the 1960’s) hounded the studio relentlessly to listen to him sing. At first they just ignored him but he was so persistent that they finally gave in. Steve went into a room to listen to Otis, and when he began to sing his own song, “These Arms of Mine”, Steve said, “Hold on.”. Steve says that it was the voice that the Stax instrumentalists had always dreamed could exist somewhere, and the second he heard it, he knew what it was. He assembled a band and recorded Otis on the spot. That song did quite well and was the beginning of his wonderful, albeit much too brief career.
He met his wife Zelda after a talent show at the Douglas Theater in Macon Georgia. Otis won that talent show 15 times in a row, until they finally banned him. After one of the shows, according to his soon-to-be wife, he was fresh with her, but when they met a second time it went much better and they eventually fell in love. Zelma, has asserted that “It was European audiences who first demonstrated their true respect for Redding,” and it’s unlikely that Redding would have been invited later that summer to Monterey if he hadn’t captured the imagination of the European music scene. She also teases about her husband’s inabilities to dance (it’s true) and lip-sync. She blames… “everything that Otis Redding did, he never did it the same way… but Otis Redding could not sing a song the same way every time”. His videos from that time are comedic, he stiffly moves off beat and sings a different version than what you hear (smiling all the time), while some 60’s style dancers writhe around him in a “mod-style” studio.
Watching the videos, as well as his wife’s two comments made me wonder, in this musical climate where quick visuals, and technology like Auto-Tune dominate the radiowaves, I wonder if he even would have been heard, and that’s scary. I don’t think that anybody who has ever heard Otis wasn’t touched by the beauty of Soul coming through his voice. It’s the magic in music, and our world would not be the same without it!
Steve mentioned something about Otis that made me think, that’s my goal, he says, “…he was so grooving and so in tune to the song he was part of it, he was more like an instrument…”. Yes he was.
Maya is a one of a kind vocalist gem. Most people outside of New York City and Croatia unfortunately have not heard her wonderful voice. I found out about Maya because her guitarist, Christian Ver Halen contacted me on MySpace. I looked into their music and found one of my favorite albums ever, “Junkyard Jewel”. This is an acoustic album, which is so rare in soul singing today that it is an anomaly right out of the gate. Any fans of “Hallelujah” originally by Leonard Cohen will hopefully feel as I do that her version is by far the most emotionally powerful version that they have ever heard. In general soul music today has morphed into another over-produced form of pop music containing none of the true grit and… well Soul! This album, “Junkyard Jewel” brings singing back to the forefront. The outstanding instrumentation behind her makes you feel as if you are sitting somewhere in a dark club in Brooklyn (where she is from) planning the revolution. Her songwriting is very powerful and brings me back to my difficult days in New York City every time I listen. I actually have quite a bit in common with her.
She has unfortunately not matched the brilliance of Junkyard Jewel with any of her other albums… for my taste. However, if you like more produced albums then the other albums will be fine for you, but for me, lately I just am exhausted with the level of noise that people put around vocals. If the vocalist are good enough to have their name on the front, then let them sing and bring those voices out to the front… I’m just saying ; ) and with Maya, I just want to hear the singing which Junkyard Jewel allows brilliantly. Another cut worth mention is, “My All” on her first album, “Maya Who?!”.
I am on Maya’s email list and so I get to hear about all the wonderful accolades that she is starting to pick up, including a Grammy Award Certificate for her work with Stephen Marley on his best reggae album of the year, Mind Control. She has been playing the Blue Note a lot in New York City and is always a part of the New York underground events. She also has times where she hits rock bottom in the grind and feels as if she puts out 1,000 to get 10 back. On New Years last year she sent out a soulful email to her fans that explains a lot about her…
THE LETTER JANUARY 1ST, 2009 – JOURNAL Do you ever feel like hanging it all up and becoming someone who doesn’t give a f**k? A stripper, maybe? I have so much passion inside of me, and so much love to give – I wanna be one of those crazy people who attempt to heal the world. It’s too much inside of me at times, and sometimes I want to dare myself to let go, and just wild out. As I type this, I’m over here now in Croatia – that’s Hrvatska to those that speak the language – and I am so ready. But I kept thinking I was ready last year, and the year before, and the year before, for at least 10 years – maybe even 20. I have resigned myself to the fact that God is the master, and I have agreed to trust His perfect hand, to guide me, and to take me on the path of His choosing. I am a sheep, a lamb and a leader – if you intellects can believe this. My God has held ! me down, never asking me to set down my sword of intelligence. Yet, He has a Divine order that super cedes my perfect understanding. He tells me to wait sometimes, when I want to go. In all things He and I are in agreeance. And we both love all people. I have this addiction to people that was there from the beginning of my intellect. I want to help people. I want to love the helpless. I want to stand in their shoes and lend them strength. I want to love those that have sorely needed it. I want to bring Hope. I want to separate the enslaved from their circumstances. I want to sing to the world…..and, I mean the WORLD, not just one or two countries. I want to take that chance, and take the risk to rep those that need a voice. So, the weight of it all just presses me on, and sometimes it presses me down, because I am human after all. And those that do not give a f**k are human too. And I cannot make them be less human! . I can live by example. I bless you with all I ha ve withi n me. You may not know me. You may have never met me. You may not believe me, or believe in me, but I bless you all the same. Because, one day I hope to sing you a song, and have you believe me -for 5 minutes- that I want to make a positive difference in this world. And it is such a commitment to be that kind of soul. Donnie Hathaway committed suicide. Marvin Gaye was assassinated – by his father! You think those chaotic stories in the Bible are crazy? No, they are human. And those two still inspire me, and the world. But understand what an undertaking and burden it must have been for them, such that they didn’t even live it through, to witness the results of their good work. Jimi took his life too….maybe because he could not fathom the effect he would make on the world. My weapon is my voice and my song. Let me sing for you this year. I ask you to continue to be by my side, continue to show up at m! y shows, and ask for me and send me encouraging notes. I THANK YOU for my last few years and for the 2009 to come. YOU are my hope and I am yours. I have a new CD almost in the can. If you want the next, tell me now. Show me how we can rise above the given system and bring music to the regions of the world that need to hear it! Maybe my words are cathartic, which will mean they are mostly self-serving, but I assure you that my purpose in life is all for you…guaranteed. Welcome to the New Year, we have good things in store; we have things to overcome; we have moments to be victorious; we have a moment to be our new selves. God bless you and thank you for believing me. I look forward to seeing you in the soon!
After I read this I thought she might want to know that somebody else out here felt the same way, so I wrote her a letter, which she replied to, which I thought was very cool. It is a wonderful thing to have great aspirations for helping others through music and it is virtually impossible to maintain our beliefs that we should go forward in today’s culture. We all need to be appreciated, but musicians bring out the scary stuff inside all the time and only ask for a little whooping, clapping and dancing in return… and we REALLY need it to fill that space back in. Music is not respected the way it should be and I think maybe it is because people are bombarded with the corporate noise masquerading as music, and don’t find music like this enough. The music that really touches the soul and wants love for us all is rare, beautiful and to be treasured. I hope that listening to her will get you excited about music again… and let some people know about her, I do, and anybody who drives in my car, where I play this CD endlessly will vouch for that!
Now I am going back in time for this one. I didn’t want to focus on just this time period, but wanted to go back to some of my early favorites as well, so I am going back to middle high. In about 6th grade I had a run of luck that included me winning, a record a week for a year! I got to go to the local record store each week and pick up a new album… for a whole year. I can honestly say that this prize might have changed the direction of my life. The album that ruled the year for me was Queen’s “News of the World” with a gigantic greenish robot on the front cover (That and Boston’s self-titled album released the year before). This album had the mega-hits, “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions” on it, which I sang endlessly off of my white and orange record player. Like all good musical introductions in my life, Freddie blew me away. I could sit and ‘sing with him’ all day long. This album opened all the rest of Queen’s work to me and I began to delve into Bohemian Rhapsody, Under Pressure, Somebody to Love, Killer Queen (with that insane rise in the chorus), You’re My Best Friend, Bicycle Race and Flash. Queen could grab your attention with musical intricacies and compositional brilliance more than any other band I have ever heard. There was a sense of silliness, drama, theater and that voice! Freddie could jump three octaves and not break a sweat. I think what was most attractive to me about his voice was the operatic quality. This is something that I followed him with. My second vocal teacher taught opera and I determined I would have that power and range if I took those classes. In fact Freddie himself thought that the sound of his voice had something to do with a very large upper palate which also made him buck-toothed. He refused to fix it determined that it would change the sound of his voice. The fact is that that kind of voice is a once in a 100 years occurence and it was uniquely his.
The darker side of Freddie that I knew nothing about when I was his biggest fan was that he was gay… really obviously in retrospect, but did not come out to the world with his sexuality. At that time not even Elton John admitted he was gay and it was a dangerous thing to do to a pop career. I recently watched a documentary on Freddie and realized that he was really torn apart by this contradiction in his life. As an example they showed the video of, “I Want to Break Free” where Freddie is dressed in drag and screaming, “I got to break free”… it seems pretty obvious in hindsight, just the mustache alone, not to mention the band name, but then again I hadn’t lived in San Francisco yet. The most outstanding thing about Freddie was that when he was on stage, it had been built for him. Everything about Freddie shined on stage. I watched his performance on LiveAid, still considered one of the best performances of all time, and was blown away by his command of this stage which was a daunting one by any ones standards. To have lost him to AIDS is just another example of how horrible that disease has been to this world and how much we should cherish the drugs that now exist to keep people like Freddie alive.
As a side note I would like to get on my soap box a minute and say that while I was looking through the old songs I noticed that “Justin Bieber” the newest pop kid did a HORRIBLE remake of Freddie’s song, “Somebody to Love”. Over produced with almost no vocals save an Auto-Tuned mess of repititiveness that is mixed down below that same insipid dance beat… and this is what sells the most today, and I really, really worry about a generation being brought up on this crap. Queen was the top album when I was in middle school! Having a girl that is about to head into middle school next year I can see that the trend of music is all about the money of mass producing music… it started in the 80’s and unfortunately it just seems to be getting worse. What ever happened to talent? Hopefully we won’t let it die with Freddie or our generation, but educate the kids, because (mostly) the radio ain’t doing it any more!
When people ask me, “Who is your favorite singer?”, I get stuck, Ella?, Dinah?, Donny? Otis? I don’t know if I can pick just one. When they say, “Who is your favorite current singer” there is only one answer, Jill Scott. Jill’s first album was appropriately called, “Who is Jill Scott?” and to this day she just blows me away. Her singing is unparalleled, as is her songwriting, a rare and wonderful gift. Songs like “I Am Not Afraid” and “The Fact Is (I Need You)” address the major changes that our world has gone through with the advancements of equal rights between men and women, and the pitfalls that go with them.
I think I feel a strong connection with this woman for many reasons. One, if you see her live she will blow your socks off. She’s all love and you feel it the moment she steps on to stage. Two, she’s large and successful in music. Having survived 3 years in American musical history where the highest paid female singer (Britney Spears) couldn’t hold a note… but looked like men wanted her to, I can’t express the power that image has over our belief in ourselves. Someone like Jill who has it all and is a larger woman (though she’s still very beautiful) and has great success says maybe there is a chance for us larger women. Three, her lyrics are deep and relevant. The lyrics also often tackle complex social issues and are very sweet with regards to men. She’s very positive, but realistically so. On her first live album she says that she gets lot’s of shit for a lyric about fighting another woman on one of my favorite songs ever, “Your Gettin’ in the Way”. She’s postive, but not all the time… I understand. Next, and most importantly there is her innate ability to sing her a$$ off… for real, the range power and beauty in her voice are always wonderful to listen to.
Her material spans many subjects, politics with “My Petition”, joy of life with “Golden”, childhood stories with “Rasool”, love with many of her songs, but “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)” is my favorite, stickin’ with your man with “Bedda at Home”, calming oneself down in an overwhelming world with “Breathe”, needing sex with “Celibacy Blues”, being a modern independent woman with “I’m Not Afraid”, but still needing a good man without question with “The Fact Is (I Need You)” and telling the people who can’t do anything better than hate the people who put it all out there, where they can put it with “Hate on Me”… see the embedded video below.
As far as which album you should get… this was a hard one. They are truly all good (except her first live album, “Experience: Jill Scott 826+” which is just OK), her latest live album, “Live in Paris” is freakin’ amazing, but I wouldn’t start with it… I would probably start at the beginning with her, “Who is Jill Scott, Words & Sounds, Vol. 1″… if you love it like me, just keep going through them chronologically. Enjoy!
Donny Hathaway is THE voice. Yeah, there is Otis, Aretha, Ella, Stevie, all fantastic singers, but for me the voice of soul is embodied in Donny Hathaway. Donny sang humanity’s blues, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye followed in his footsteps, Marvin tragically too closely. Never heard of him? Neither had I until Georgia Louis (my good friend and mentor) told me about him. Georgia, somewhere nebulously in her 70s now (maybe) told me about being a young girl and going to every concert she could of his, listening to him, crushed by the sheer beauty of his voice. Likewise Delores Scott (whom some of you know as a Coloradoan who lives in Chicago) says this about Donny...
“My friendship with Donny came from him coming to our church and asking if he could keep his “big apple cap on” my Godfather Reverend Clay Evans said that if he would come to church, why should they make him take off his cap. My friends and I would follow Donny everywhere he performed. When he recorded 'The Ghetto', we were hanging out in the studio (like we so often did) and he asked us to sing on the bridge. There is also a piece in the song that his baby Lala started crying and he left it in, I guess he was the first to do digital recordings. Donny was one of the most loving people you could ever meet, little did any of us know of the hurt that he was holding inside.”
Delores says that to this day she still has a hard time listening to him, so painful was the loss of him to this world. Recently Delores suggested that I read Quincy Jones’ autobiography “Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones”, I recommend reading this book more than almost any other music biography I have ever read, his tales are truly spectacular, he IS American music. Anyway, while reading the book I came upon this quote about Donny written by Quincy...
“Donny got it quick; he was truly a genius. But he couldn’t understand why Stevie Wonder, whom I’d known and admired since he was 12, was more popular than him. He said, ‘I’ve done everything right. I know how to touch people. What do I have to do to get people to love me like they love Stevie?’ He used to travel with $200,000 to $300,000 in cash, and he felt safe enough to call me from almost every city in America, day or night. The last time was from his grandmother’s in St. Louis. Months after he made the record, on a Sunday, Donny took off all his clothes and managed to unscrew two-inch-thick floor to ceiling glass windows at the Park Lane Hotel in New York, then leap out and land on an awning twenty-three stories down. These calls were desperate pleas for help. This memory pains me deeply; it is only one of many.”
It pains us all. His tragic death was the result of manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia. We should not have suffered the loss of this great singer, but he left us the greatest gift he could, his music. Donny’s first major song release, that you can hear Delores singing on, “The Ghetto” is an iconic song released in 1969. He is actually most famous for his duet with Roberta Flack on, “Where is the Love”, but for me it all starts with his cover of Leon Russell’s brilliantly written, “A Song for You”. This was Donny’s forte, he could take a song, no matter how cheesy, or wonderful in this case, and bring out the soul and depth of it. For example, “Sack Full of Dreams” by any artist would sound cheesy. When Donny sings, “…can they learn to understand, the world of love that I’m dreaming, the world of love, and I, I said I, I got a sack full of dreams, streets filled with laughter and toy balloons and people with hearts that care, who listen for love…”, you believe that it is indeed what this man dreams of, from his soul on down, you can hear it.
Which leads me to my favorite album of his, there is a lot of good stuff out there by Donny, I always liked, “The Best of Donny Hathaway”. It has “A Song for You” and another of his greatest songs,”Giving Up” on it, as well as classics like, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and “I Believe in Music”. You know these songs, but after hearing Donny sing them, they will never sound the same to you again, unless he’s singing them. The album that has had regular rotation in my CD player for many years now however is, “These Songs for You Live”. There are two live albums that are worth mentioning. This one and “Donny Hathaway: LIVE”, which features the outstanding bass player, Willie Weeks. I prefer “These Songs for You Live” over the Willie Weeks album, because of this one song, “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.” The song has made me cry so many times I’ve lost count, If you listen to nothing else listen to his version of this song.
10 of My Favorite Tracks by Donny:
1. I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know – These Songs for You Live
2. What’s Goin On – Donny Hathaway Live
3. A Song for You – The Best of Donny Hathaway
4. The Ghetto – Everything is Everything
5. Giving Up – The Best of Donny Hathaway
6. Jealous Guy – These Songs for You Live
7. Sack Full of Dreams – These Songs for You Live
8. Put Your Hand in the Hand – The Best of Donny Hathaway
9. What a Woman Really Means – Atlantic Unearthed : Soul Brothers
10. I Believe In Music – The Best of Donny Hathaway
So maybe I got ahead of myself a little. How could I start a “Favorites” list and not put my favorite up first. Now, I know that everybody knows about and loves Jimi Hendrix, he is an icon of American music. This little blurb’s intention is about my relationship with Hendrix and what his life has taught me about music and about life.
My personal journey with Jimi started a long time ago. I grew up in a household with a father that played clarinet, saxophone, guitar and banjo and had his own band, “Throop’s Troopers” in college. I listened to almost entirely jazz growing up. I heard all the Coltrane, Miles and Herb Alpert a child could take. Around the age of 15 a friend of my father’s introduced me to the blues. He was a musician as well and felt that I needed to start with the blues and work through from there (he heard talent in my voice and was determined I would be a musician). I loved Muddy and Howlin’ as I still do to this day, they made a huge impression on me. But I can still remember the day, a few weeks into my education when he turned on Jimi Hendrix’s “Axis: Bold as Love”. For me time stopped. I remember telling him to be quiet (something I never would have done back then). I listened to the whole album 3 times before I would let him speak again. I have probably listened to that album somewhere near 100,000 times, it’s part of the soundtrack of my life.
Jimi Hendrix for a long time was nothing more than a struggling blues musician. In fact he struggled so much he had to leave the country to make it. How could no one in the U.S. hear how phenomenal and exceptional his playing was? It says a lot about the “crowd mentality” and people needing to be told that someone is good before they can hear it for themselves. Until Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend said that he was a guitar god… nobody heard it. This is a quote from “Jimi Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight” co-written by Eddie Kramer, his sound engineer.
“When we got there Ginger Baker was a bit uptight, but he was an old pal of mine, we had known each other at that stage for ten or eleven years, and backstage he said that Hendrix could jam with them if Clapton stayed on stage. He wanted this because if Eric stayed on stage and then it all went wrong, he could pull it out.” Baker’s conditions were respected. Regent Polytech was an important gig for the “cream” of Britain’s white R&B enthusiasts. Partway through the set, Jimi went on, opening with “Killing Floor”, his frenzied arrangement of Howlin’ Wolf’s recent Chess single. “Clapton stood there and his hands dropped off of the guitar,” recalls Chandler. “He lurched off the stage. I thought, ‘Oh God, it’s happening now.’ I went backstage and he was trying to get a match to a cigarette. I said, ‘Are you all right?’ and he replied, ‘Is he that fu**ing good?’ He had heard ten bars at the most. Within a week, he had his hair frizzed and would come by our flat anytime that he had a spare moment, to be with Hendrix.”
Jimi backed up Little Richard, but drew too much attention away from the star and got fired. He lived in total poverty in New York City trying to make it in music… something I tried as well… But why was Jimi so exceptional? Why do we still talk about him today as unparalled? Because Jimi Hendrix worked his a** off. Jimi played the guitar almost continually and loved music like it was the sweetness in the air that he breathed.
One of my favorite releases ever about Jimi Hendrix is “Interviews”. In this documentary the filmaker interviews friends and family of Jimi’s and asks them questions about him just following his death. One of the lasting quotes from the movie, said by Little Richard is; “Jimi Hendrix would give it all to you, and that’s what you want… you want it all or none”. That quote goes through my head every time I step on stage. I believe I have also read every book ever written about Jimi, my favorite was written by his closest girlfriend that he wrote “The Wind Cries Mary”, “Foxy Lady” and others songs about, Kathy Etchingham. The book is called, “Through Gypsy Eyes”, she was reluctant to write it, but it gave me an insight into him that I hadn’t gotten from the other biographies about him.
So what did Jimi teach me about music and life:
1. Give it all or none
2. You have to work at it, no matter how much talent you have it means nothing unless you put time into your art
3. Don’t be afraid to be a FREAK!
4. Have faith, no matter how dark it gets the music will always carry you through
5. Believe in miracles, you never know when a Chas Chandler might come along and recognize your particular talent and also have a gift to help other people see it
6. Competition in music is healthy and necessary, long for people that are better for you, but don’t let them stay that way for too long (reference is; Jimi before performing at Monterey finding out that he was going on after The Who and saying, “If I’m going on after you I am pulling ALL the stops out!”… and he did… made music history in fact)
7. Keep your sense of humor… always keep your sense of humor because people around music are CRRRRRAZY!
So my 10 most favorite tracks of Jimi’s are:
1. May This Be Love (Are You Experienced?)
2. Little Wing (Axis: Bold as Love) (South Saturn Delta)
3. Castles Made of Sand (Axis: Bold as Love)
4. If 6 Was 9 (Axis: Bold as Love)
5. Bold as Love (Axis: Bold as Love)
6. Voodoo Chile (Electric Ladyland)
7. Crosstown Traffic (Electric Ladyland)
8. Rainy Day Dream Away (Electric Ladyland)
9. Changes (Band of Gypsies) (Hendrix: The Baggy’s Rehearsel Sessions)
10. Message of Love (Band of Gypsies) (Crash Landing) (Hendrix: The Baggy’s Rehearsel Sessions)
Rarer tracks that I love as well:
1. Astro Man (The Cry of Love) (First Rays of the New Rising Sun)
2. Angel (The Cry of Love) (First Rays of the New Rising Sun) (Voodoo Soup)
3. My Friend (The Cry of Love)
4. Belly Button Window (The Cry of Love) (First Rays of the New Rising Sun) (Voodoo Soup)
5. Born Under a Bad Sign (Blues)
6. Mannish Boy (Blues)
7. Power of Soul (Hendrix: The Baggy’s Rehearsel Sessions) (South Saturn Delta)
Me’Shell Ndegéocello is one of my favorite living artists. This woman’s warm and sensual voice is topped only by her world-class bass playing and songwriting. My relationship with Me’Shell started long ago with “Plantation Lullabies”. This was her first album released in 1993, it is a raw and funky original album that absolutely blew me away when it came out. The first cut I heard was, “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)”. I asked my friend, “this song is awesome (also a bit nasty!) but who is playing bass on it?”, that seemed the real star in the cut, and it turned out to be her as well. Me’Shell is a true artist. She is always sexy, if you are a prudish republican you won’t like her and if you like what she did on this album, it won’t be what the next album sounds like. She explores all sides of music, refusing to be labeled as any one thing. A few things are pretty much always there though, she is always political, sexy, honest, nasty and FUNKY!
To explore Me’Shell we can only do it through the timeline of her discography. Each piece of her work is disntinguishable, important and a great piece of art, whether I personally like the style or not, each of her albums deserves mention…
Plantation Lullabies: funky, fun, original and very bass heavy. My favorite cuts off it are, “I’m Diggin’ You (Like An Old Soul Record)”, still appearing in my “best songs” mixes 17 years after it’s release; “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)”, bass line, bass line, bass line, one of the baddest ever; “Dred Loc”, let’s just say I sang this to a few men back in the day…; “Outside Your Door”, which I heard her perform acoustically at Boulder Theater last year. I will mention that this album has some hard edges lyrically, “Soul on Ice” always pissed me off lyrically and I deleted from my library.
Peace Beyond Passion: When they ask you to name 10 albums you’d take to a deserted island, this one is high on my list. I LOVE this album. All the songs are fantastic. The mood, the feel of the album is so sensual, political, spiritual and beautiful all at the same time… I really can’t put in words how much I love this album. One of the songs that I must note on this album is “Make Me Wanna Holler”. This song is about watching her mother being beaten and abused and how she wished she could change it. It gives me chills or tears every time I hear it. Another song, “The Way” has these profound lyrics asking Jesus… “they say, you’re the way of light, the light is so blinding, am I not to question, your followers condemn me, your words were used to enslave me, hear my prayer, my sweet Jesus, I heard that you could save me”. This song is an open letter with no answer, asking questions about Jesus that few even put to words, much less to song… AND it’s a great groovy tune on top of it! Anyway, if you like getting deep into spirit, race, politics and love the bass… GET THIS ALBUM!
Bitter: Then in 1999 she released this album. It is EXACTLY what the title suggests it is. If you are broken hearted and depressed get this album.
So what did Jimi teach me about music and life:
Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape: This album brought her back to her Plantation Lullabies roots a little, with a little more sensuality, quirkiness and beauty. Some of my favorite cuts are, “Earth”, a beautiful love story; “GOD, FEAR, MONEY”, with some of the most searing lyrics outside of Dead Prez about the “way the world goes round and round”; “Better By the Pound”, which is so freakin’ funky!; and an especially explicit, funky and sexxy number, “Pocketbook”.
Comfort Woman: On this album she really brought together all that she does into one coherent mood. She touches on some of her older work, creates one of the best soul-chill-out albums ever made and as always brings the politics and sensuality. The album breezes into the electronic feel more than the other’s that she has done. It makes it a bit more ‘digital’ and current than her other albums (I personally like the old school feel on her other albums more). She also plays with lot’s of reggae beats on this album. It’s a keeper! My favorite cut is probably “Fellowship”, but I’m very political, “Love Song #1” is a fantastic cut as well.
The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel: This one is jazz… like I said she is good at it all. In this album she explores bass, composition and creates no lyrics, nor does she sing. Lalah Hathaway and Cassandra Wilson sit in, but in general it’s a hard jazz album.
The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams: I love this title, it’s hilarious… and I’ve felt that way sometimes. The album isn’t my style however. Though if you like hard-rock-electronica-soul, this is it. It’s still a really good album with driving lyrics, but it relies on the guitar lines and production. Sometimes it sounds a bit like a hard dub album. It’s definitely worth checking out however.
Devil’s Halo: This is her most recent release and it pretty much returns to the feel of “Bitter”. It’s just that, dark, brooding and painful.
Listen to songs and find links to buy her albums here
Beth Hart is unparalleled in her singing abilities. Without a doubt I have never heard a singer that gave me chills as often as Beth does. She can hit notes with vibrato and power that I wouldn’t dream of approaching. Her story is an amazing one, and can be found here.
One of the primary reasons I picked Beth however is that almost no one in the U.S. knows about her. She’s had only one major hit in the U.S., “L.A. Song” which many artists have covered. She’s an all American girl, but most of her touring is done in Holland, Norway and Denmark. Thanks to a fan in Mead who told me I sounded like her (I WISH I was that good!) I discovered Beth. I want to see if we can get her to Colorado some time, but she needs more fans here, which shouldn’t be hard once you listen to her!
I often hear that I sound like Janis Joplin and when people tell me this I am fond of telling them to listen to Beth Hart if they want to hear the next generation of Janis Joplin. My favorite album of hers for a long time was “Leave the Light On”… until I heard her “Live at the Paradiso” album. I highly recommend getting the DVD so that you have the visuals to go with it, but at least get this album. It’s one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard. Her style is much more rock heavy in places, but her blues and her ballads (she plays the piano as well) are unbelievably moving.
My favorite songs on the album are, “Guilty”, “Am I the One”, “Mama” and “Leave the Light On”.