Round the Dial
Wednesday 12 February @ 14:54:24
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Time and again, the black man has %@!#$&ed up. He starts out with his %@!#$& together, then he gets sidetracked by the white folks whisperin’, ‘Clean it up. Tone it down. Get a monkey-suit.’ See- attitude! That’s what the black man’s got. The white man wants it so bad, he can’t help but be jealous. So over and over, the black man’s music gets %@!#$&ed with.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa”
-—Sly & The Family Stone
Welcome to this installment of Round The Dial, where, in honor of Black History Month, we’ll celebrate and note some of your humble correspondent’s favorite African-American singers, songwriters, musicians, producers, songs, and artists. As I sat down to go through my albums, tapes, and CD’s for this column, I found myself musing on my rather cloistered upbringing, and being raised in a household where prejudice and racial intolerance were the norm. Being raised in a family where “nigger” was the nicest word used to describe African-Americans, where Native Americans were referred to as drunks, bums, and losers, where Orientals were dubbed “chinks,” Latinos and Italians “wetbacks” and “wops,” and where even white nationalities like Norwegians, Finns, Poles, French, and Germans were relegated to a lower social standard and became the butt of coarse, ignorant jokes.
How were those people able to ignore their own heritage and backgrounds—after all, we were Irish, German, American Indian, and French—to the point where they could actually make fun of other races? How the hell did I escape that fate to grow up loving Chuck Berry, Motown, Hendrix, and Public Enemy? To have as my favorite comedians/entertainers guys like Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, and SHAFT? To room with a seven-foot-tall African-American basketball player in college and learn about cool jazz? To work construction with Jamaicans, Africans, Haitians, and Cubans and become part of their “crew,” kickin’ it, firin’ up, and drowning in rhythms that haven’t even been invented yet in white heads? To fall in love and become life partners with a Latina/Italian girl? Was it all those episodes of All In The Family, The Jeffersons, and Good Times that showed up my redneck kinfolk for what they really were? Maybe it was my close American Indian buds in school who taught me that the only color that matters in this world is the green on the dollar bill, or maybe it was just the music itself—Chuck’s “Johnny B. Goode,” Smokey And The Miracles’ “Tears Of A Clown,” Jimi’s “Crosstown Traffic,” PE’s Fear Of A Black Planet—and how it connected with some sane, logical corner of my brain. Who knows? Who cares?
Am I completely free of prejudiced thoughts and feelings? Hell no, I’m not. I came of age in a time and place that encouraged such tripe, and I have to struggle every day to RISE ABOVE. Anybody—of any color—who says they’re completely free of prejudism is lying—and those are the scariest of all. All I can do is be open, and honest, and willing to learn. And all that really matters now is that I’ve had a couple decades as an adult to get to know scads of people of all races, colors, and nationalities, and to discover the awesome power of one-ness that Bob Marley cried for his whole life, that my own son is well-balanced, normal, and so NOT prejudiced against people of color that he actually leans a bit toward condemning the white race for all of the injustices that it has (and continues to) heap upon folks that are even a little different on the outside, and that I’VE GOT THE MUSIC IN ME, BABY!! The coolest thing is, I’m still learning, and still looking forward to delving even deeper into the music, art, and lifestyles of people who are so like me and yet so different.
So much to take in, so little time—Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Charlie “Bird” Parker, the tribal dances of Somalia, Greek drinking songs, traditional Jewish fiddle music, Balinese love ballads, Chinese fertility chants, Arabian folk tales, Winnebago Indian war stories, 1940’s Chicago blues, and two decades of rap and hip-hop that I’m still trying to digest and comprehend—I’m gonna keep comin’ back until I can’t fit no more in my soul, man. So let me take this opportunity to share some of my faves, in the hopes that it’ll inspire someone to dig for their own and share them with others and continue the ONE-NESS that is the tiny thread holding what’s left of today’s civilization together. We are all we’ve got, and the mean green really is the only color “the man” sees at the end of the day, so let’s work it...
MY FIVE EARLIEST AFRICAN-AMERICAN MUSICAL INFLUENCES:
1 Chuck Berry—“Johnny B. Goode.” I remember singing this one at the top of my lungs while playing with some younger neighbor kids circa 1973. The lyrics so impressed them that they insisted I sing it every time we played together, and the music so impressed me that I began a life-long love affair with the patented Berry riff—from the Stones right on through the New York Dolls and beyond.
2 Billy Preston—“Will It Go Round In Circles.” One of my first clues that rock and funk worked together really, really, really well. Still super-tasty today!
3 The Supremes—“Where Did Our Love Go.” I always felt just a little safer, sounder, and more loved when my ears were wrapped around a Diana Ross (or just about any Motown or Phil Spector-produced tune) vocal, and those harmonies begat a love for spot-on pop that still mesmerizes me. Also laid the groundwork for me to point out in later years to white-bread pals that J. Geils didn’t write this song. Then I could bust loose on how badly whitey had ripped off black artists over the years. Many people are still shocked at the true tales I regale them with, but it’s a fact—white producers and record execs (and many artists) literally built their fortunes off the sweat, blood, and inspiration of the very black artists they lauded and celebrated. The music industry is third only to politics and religion for unabashedly %@!#$&ING people—and especially people of color—over.
4 Jimi Hendrix—“Purple Haze.” The one black artist that even the most rednecked, cracker mother%@!#$&er in the room couldn’t deny. Jimi channeled the power of ancient hoodoo shamen through his guitar, and any guitar player who doesn’t at least respect what he did is JEALOUS, simple as that. A true rock god.
5 The Four Tops—“Bernadette.” The urgency, angst, and heart-on-your-sleeve delivery of this paeon to a doomed love affair ran rings around the whipped-cream, feather-haired wimp rock I’d heard on Top 40, and I still get goosebumps at the part where everything suddenly STOPS on a dime and then SLAMS back into your heart—“BERNADETTE!!” Sublime.
TEN OF THE GREATEST AFRICAN-AMERICAN ARTISTS OF ALL TIME:
1 Robert Johnson—King of the Delta Blues. Johnson wrote “Crossroads Blues” and a handful of other blues classics before becoming a victim of his own wild lifestyle. Has been endlessly copied, ripped-off, and covered, most notably by English guitarist Eric Clapton. One can only hope Johnson’s in charge of the portion of hell Clapton ends up in.
2 Billie Holiday—First Lady Of The Blues. Holiday wa s the model for all tough-girl singers after her, including Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Joan Jett, and Kat Bjelland. Unfortunately, today’s watered-down form of R&B has no room for original, in-your-face divas like Billie, preferring instead to nurture the careers of pasty little whiners like Whitney Houston. If only Billie could come back for one day and kick the living %@!#$& out of EVERYBODY WHO’S HAD A TOP TEN HIT OVER THE PAST DECADE!!
3 Al Green—Soul-deep Loverman. Green’s uber-romantic ballads and undeniable soul swing made for some of the sexiest music to ever hit the airwaves—just a little on the “nice” side, though, as Al’s got the Lord fightin’ for his bad self. For hot an’ nasty soul, see...
4 Marvin Gaye and Barry White (tie), Mr. Smooth and Big Daddy. Gaye could croon the skirts off of a Victorian-era nun with his like-buttah vocals and lyrics (Let’s Get It On...) while White’s bowel-disrupting bass voice had ‘em looking past his health-harming obesity and deep into his enough-love-for-alla-ya’ll soul. The baddest of the bad.
5 Curtis Mayfield—Givin’ It To The Man. Wrote some of the heaviest social and political commentary of the sixties and seventies, including “People Get Ready,” “We People Who Are Darker Than Blue,” and “If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go.” We lost an irreplaceable voice against darkness and evil when Curtis passed away a few years back.
6 Aretha Franklin—Queen Of Soul. Aretha, like alot of classic female singers, didn’t write a lot of her own material, but she remains the ultimate translator of quality rock, blues, and r&b music, as evidenced by her untouchable cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect.” Still goin’ strong, if only there were decent songwriters left for her to turn to for material. Hmm—why aren’t there any kickass songwriters putting out material for today’s crop of black singers and performers? I smell another conspiracy...
7 Joan Armatrading—Black Leather and Loud Amps. This Trinidad native continues to pump out electrified, world-savvy rock, R&B, and blues to a small but loyal audience. If you have any doubt about her abilities, check out tunes like “I Love It When You Call Me Names” and “Drop The Pilot.” She’ll blow you away.
8 Smokey Robinson—The Renaissance Man of Motown. Smokey not only sang and performed at least a quarter of the best material to come out of Motown, he also wrote and produced a %@!#$&-load of it, discovering and nurturing then-new talent like The Temptations. There should be a statue of Smokey in every city and town in America.
9 George Clinton—The Master Of P-Funk. Melding rock, funk, pop, and soul roots, Clinton and the Parliament/Funkadelic crew absolutely decimated the face of popular music, forcing the entire world to finally understand that black music was at the bottom of every decent song they’d ever heard on the radio, and that rock and funk were meant to blend, mutate, and spawn new and ever-evolving forms of music. Hey, man, smell my finger—that’s ONE-NESS, pal.
10 Sun Ra—Cosmic Soul Man. Sun, who’s sadly gone on to other planes of existence, so radically interpreted the universal ONE-NESS that even today, very few musicologists claim to completely understand where he was going. Maybe we’ll only understand when we’re where Sun is now. I know I got my seat on the rocket reserved.
TEN BLACK BLUES LEGENDS YOU SHOULD HEAR:
2) Mississippi John Hurt
3) Skip James
4) Bukka White
5) Son House
6) Jimmy Reed
7) Lightnin’ Hopkins
8) Howlin’ Wolf
9) Little Walter
10) RL Burnside
FIVE BLACK JAZZ LEGENDS YOU SHOULD HEAR:
1) Miles Davis
2) Ornette Coleman
3) Louis Armstrong
4) Bix Beiderbecke
5) Jelly Roll Morton
TEN BLACK ROCK OR COUNTRY HEROES:
1) Charlie Pride—Country
2) Vernon Reid—Rock w/Living Colour
3) Little Richard—Rock
4) Ted Hawkins—Country, rock, blues
5) Arthur Lee—Psychedelic Rock w/Love
6) Phil Lynott—Hard rock w/Thin Lizzy
7) Daryl Jones—Rock, bassist for Rolling Stones
8) Stew—Pop, solo and with The Negro Problem
9) Billy Preston—Rock, Soul, R&B, solo and with The Beatles
10) HR—Punk, solo and with The Bad Brains
TEN OF THE GREATEST (REAL) R&B SONGS OF ALL TIME:
1) “Sixty Minute Man” —Clarence Carter
2) “Work With Me Annie” -Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
3) “Fever” -Little Willie John
4) “Pledging My Love” -Johnny Ace
5) “Stagger Lee” -Lloyd Price
6) “I Pity The Fool” -Bobby “Blue” Bland
7) “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” -Smokey & The Miracles
8) “Hold On, I’m A’ Comin’”—Sam And Dave
9) “Everyday People” -Sly & The Family Stone
10) “What’s Going On” -Marvin Gaye
There ‘tis, people. I hope this little tip o’ the pen to Black History Month has inspired, taught, or otherwise bettered your minds and hearts—and I’d just like to take this opportunity to say thanks, from the bottom of my liquor-soaked, music-muddled soul, to all of the artists I’ve listed and the thousands there wasn’t room to, for all of the mind-blowing music and the years of jammin’ behind and ahead. Take a chance, buy an album you don’t know any songs on, check out an artist you don’t know much about, go see a show by an act you just read about in the paper—learn, grow, expand, become one with the ONE-NESS, baby. Until next time—make yer own damn news.
If you have local news/gigs/info you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to complain that I didn’t mention your favorite outer-space rock band, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com.