Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lightnin' Rod-Last Poets

One of my first offerings of 2007, prior to the time you (or at least I) could put music in a post was this piece about how the Last Poets were a big part of my music and world view back in the dark ages.
Epiphany in the High School Library
In 1979 I was a 9th grader at a New England prep school. Most of my friends were into the Grateful Dead, Bowie, or Punk Rock (all of which I would embrace, later), while I was still locked into AM Top 40 radio. Disco ruled the charts at the time, so that's where I was at, even though the music seemed to be aimed at older folks. I liked a lot of the tunes, but Disco just wasn't my music, but it was on the radio. I was too young to go to all the clubs where the true heart of disco was, so I felt left out.One glimpse of the disco highlife I did get, came from channel 9 out of New York City.

On Saturday nights I never missed The Soap Factory Disco show, which was a coked-up (I didn't know that then) disco-rific version of American Bandstand and Soul Train. I really wanted to be older, so I could go to the Soap Factory, but I wasn't, so I just kept watching the bodies moving and waited for my chance to dance. One night, everything changed. Usually a disco one hit wonder, like Amii Stewart, would come on the show and lip synch her latest, but this night, The Sugar Hill Gang graced the Soap Factory stage and did Rapper's Delight.

I certainly wasn't a disco hater, but I knew right away that The Sugar Hill gang was for me. The rappers were closer to my age, and where disco was a cold, shiny dream, Rap was raw, new, and (at least to me) real. I had found the first music that was MINE. It wasn't on the radio, it wasn't in my parents record collection, and no one in New Haven,CT (at least at prep school) knew or cared, except for me and one friend (the kid who hipped me to P-Funk).In our giddiness we went down to our school library looking for information on this new rap thing. There wasn't a whole lot to find in newspapers or books, so we decided to dig through their small record collection.

Amongst the classical and folk records I found the next step in my Hip Hop education. It really stood out from the dour, browning old folk records, it was blue and yellow with dashiki-wearing, afro-coiffed black men, sitting on a stoop, surrounded by a brace of conga drums. This was the Last Poets.

The look of the record was different to be sure, but the sounds and words on that record were a revelation. Holy shit, if the Sugar Hill Gang was raw, this was fucking DEATH.Not to mention that it was already 10 years old in 1979. We couldn't believe we found this item in our library (and I hold the utmost respect for librarians to this day) and we returned to listen to it on an almost daily basis. Hard, socially conscious, sexual, biting, revolutionary, this was the holy grail.

As high school wore on and more folks started finding out about rap, I always had my "secret" knowledge of The Last Poets to flash around to prove I was down. Most folks still scoffed, but when Grandmaster Flash came out with The Message, former naysayers were using words like raw, new, and real about them. These were the same things I was saying-mostly to myself- a few years earlier about Sugar Hill Gang. People were declaring the birth of a new art form, Hip Hop, but as far as I was concerned, the world had finally caught up to the Last Poets.

Today, the influence of that first Last Poets album is well documented and their convoluted history is an interesting tale, but I want to focus on another part of the Poet's canon, original member, Jalal Mansur Nuriddan's 1974 opus, Hustler's Convention (Jamal voiced this album under the name Lightnin' Rod).

I went to college out in Minnesota in the early 80's, when vinyl was still king and there was plenty of used material to dig through at low, low prices. No internet yet (for regular people) and certainly no historical perspective on Hip Hop, even though we were almost 15 years from the Last Poets debut.

I picked up Hustlers Convention used for 3.99 at Cheapo Records in St. Paul,MN on the strength of the gatefold cover and the song titles (Sport, Spoon, The Café Black Rose, Coppin' Some Fronts for the Set). At this point I was deeply into Hip Hop and DJ culture, but I had no idea Lightnin' Rod was from the Last Poets, so I went home, slapped the slab on the 1200 and got my mind blown.

What I had here was an ex-Last Poet (the voice was unmistakeable) backed by Kool and the Gang, doing a Rap concept album. One story, 32 minutes, with some funky music upfront (very different from the sparse conga backing of the Last Poets), some strictly spoken parts, and some parts where the music was strictly in the back (a forerunner of todays skits). This album was not your average concept album, it was like a blaxploitation movie on wax. Right up my alley to say the least.
The Bones Fly From Spoon's Hand

Hustlers Convention is ostensibly a cautionary fable, but like anything in the blaxploitation cinema of the 70's, partying, snorting, free love, and gun play make up about 95% of the story, leaving 5% for redemption and message-o-fying. I was fine with that. The first verse sets the stage and Jalal never lets up:

It was a full moon, in the middle of June, in the Summer of '69
I was young and cool and shot a bad game of pool
And I hustled all the chumps I could find
Now they called me Sport'cause I pushed the ball short
And loved all the women to death
I partied hard and packed a mean rod
And could knock you out with a right or a left

The rest of the Rap is about getting ready for the Hustlers Convention, a competition amongst players and their peers to see who can win all the dough at various games of chance. Characters flow in and out of the scene, and there is plenty of sex, drugs, jazz,and funk until the cops raid the convention, and Sport (our anti-hero) gets shot, arrested, and eventually sentenced to death for taking out a cop in the gun battle following the raid.
Ham Hocks Hall Was Big

He gets a reprieve in the end because the death penalty is abolished, and his twelve year incarceration leads him to some enlightenment and the moral of our story in the last minute of the record.

It had cost me 12 years of my life to realize
What a nickel and dime hustler I had been
While the real hustlers are rippin' off billions
From the unsuspecting millions
Who are programmed to think they can win

Pretty dark stuff, Hustler's Convention presaged where Hip Hop was at in 1985 when I picked the album up. Just about 10 years ahead of BDP, Schooly-D and other rappers telling tales of urban decay, survival, and hood life. The album has been named checked and ripped off by many, including Melle Mel and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and sampled by legions of DJ's, but the vibe of the piece was what really foretold the future.I sure am glad I went to the library back in '79. I didn't get a whole lot of homework done, but I did find a touchstone in my musical life, that stays with me to this day. I guess that's why they build those places.

The Godfather Takes It To The Bridge

No surprise that James Brown is my most posted artist..I've probably got 6 posts on him. I won't trouble you with all of them..although this one does have working tunes..
Early on in my MOG tenure (less than a month) the Godfather passed away..reprinted below is my post from the day after Xmas '06, w/ music added..

The Godfather Takes It To The Bridge

I wanted to write something right off the top of my head the minute I heard about James Brown, maybe a guide to his music, or a personal story about how his music affected me, but I couldn't. I needed a little time to let it sink in. My first thoughts, though, were about a book written by Greil Marcus, called Dead Elvis. Dead Elvis goes beyond the usual depictions of Elvis as a product of his environment and the mirror by which the country saw itself . The book is about the IDEA of Elvis; not as an avatar of American Culture, but as America in total . I'm not sure where I stand on Mr. Marcus' assertion about Elvis, but I do feel James Brown and the IDEA of James Brown are the ultimate embodiment of America, warts and all.

The U.S.A. is a country built on contradiction, blood, and myth, cards that James Brown held in a spade royal flush. Elvis may be America, but James Brown is what America makes out of its ultimate believers. James had talent to burn and an incredible drive to succeed, but most importantly he believed. He believed so much he changed the world. He believed so much he became a myth. He believed enough for all of us.

He did all of this within the framework of the record business, as an ex-con black man, during Jim Crow , and hailing from Augusta, Georgia, which makes his ascendance all that more unbelievable. That is, unless you know anything about James Brown, because if you do, there was never any question he would rise.

The folks who lead JB's bands over the years pretty much say the boss knew absolutely nothing about music from a technical standpoint, and yet this man is universally credited with pushing forward American popular music from where it was in 1950 to where it is today in 2006. he was a man  personally responsible for raising Black pride with his songs and yet he backed a man for president (Nixon) who was clearly no friend of Black people. He sided with the law and order folks when it came to quelling riots in Boston after Martin Luther King was assassinated, but he was no stranger to drugs, or violence, or shady business deals. All of this is textbook Americana.

More complicated than Shaft, JB was always headed toward the goal: a piece of the pie. It was always just ahead. One show away, One hit away..Got to keep on pushing. It is a wonder JB lived to be 73. In 1973 the man played shows in 51 weeks out of the year and dropped 5 LP's. Every minute of every day was committed to the dream. Getting money, women, and drugs, making records, hyping his songs at radio stations, lip synching on TV, running an empire, being a spokesman for a generation, performing, being the IDEA of James Brown, 24/7, his every movement, forward…

I've read interviews with JB and heard his pronouncements over the years and almost from the beginning he referred to himself in the 3rd person. The IDEA of James Brown was a myth almost from birth and everything he did was in the size and scope of myth. Though he may have been able to gauge the desires or feel the pulse of mortal men, he was surely not cut from their mold. Over the past few days I've gone back over his entire catalog trying to find a place where he let down his guard, where he was just James Brown. I landed on The Payback.

Cobbled together from various 1973 sessions, the remnants of a soundtrack to a movie that was never released, The Payback stands as Mr. Brown's most coherent album length statement. Clearly JB's constant touring was not geared toward making albums, most sessions were one day affairs done on the fly between gigs, and albums were necessary, but not the way he did things. For him it was all about the single, the radio play, and albums were often just a collection of his past (of that year) hits.

The recording process for JB basically consisted of him telling his band to show up at a studio and be ready to record. Normally, whoever was in charge of the band (Fred Wesley in '73) would gather the troops and come up with a groove, then at some point JB would arrive and tinker with it , bring out some lyrics, and in short order, make a record. The Payback was cut in 5 sessions, in studios from New York to Georgia to California, but the trip to the studio on August 4rth 1973, in his hometown of Augusta, might be closest we'll ever get to the real James Brown.

That day, one month after he buried his son, who had died in a car crash, he cut The Payback, Doing the Best I Can, and Forever Suffering. Its just a glimpse of a man who was a myth, but in true JB fashion (contradiction) these songs were cut for a blaxploitation soundtrack.
Doing The Best I Can

At the end of Doing the Best I Can, the song fades out with JB pleading, "I'm just a man, I'm just a man, I'm just a man.." For a minute maybe that was true, but then it was back to entourages, tours, and chasing the dream for 33 years (the only rest he ever got was in jail).By sheer will, talent and belief in this country (and its myth), James Brown achieved things few people have even conceived. He pulled quite a few people up and tore just as many down, but he left a mountain of music that will move people for ages. His is a legacy befitting a true American Myth. I won't miss him because he will never be gone.
The Payback

Stone To The Bone

Mind Power

Forever Suffering

Lightning In A Bottle-Robert Ward

Back when I first started on MOG I laid out a few of my all time faves and how I came across them..Robert Ward was one of those. The great R&B guitarist passed away during my MOG tenure. My first post on him came on 12-24-2006 and featured comments from all time classic MOGGERS Crash Pryor , RockNRollPimp, Utah Spike,lemontwist, RobP,and rawkiddoh..

Lightning In A Bottle

About 8 or 9 years ago I used to work at Amoeba records in San Francisco. I was what they call a floorwalker, in charge of putting out CD's, keeping records in stock, pruning and merchandising my sections (R and B/Acid Jazz/Groove), and talking with customers. Musically I learned more in those 9 months than I had in the prior 10 years.At the time Amoeba had about 90 full time employees and every one of them was a crazed music fan or musician. Getting to talk to these folks every day (and to some extent the customers) was a revelation. I consider myself a jack-of-all trades in music, knowing a little bit about everything witout being an expert in anything, but there were many people at Amoeba who were experts in one small sliver in the music universe, so there was a lot to learn.

One guy named Karl, who also worked on the floor, was an expert in rare psych/garage records. He pretty much didn't give a damn about anything else, but he knew all there was to know about psych and garage. He believed the best music could only be made by folks who were unfettered by the business of music, the influences of commerce and other musicians. He believed a band was only capable of 1 good record, achievable only when all the elements of musicianship (or lack thereof), creativity, and vision coalesced and someone was there to capture it on tape.Essentially, he totally believed in the Lightning in a Bottle Theory.I, of course, believe the exact opposite.

I like record labels, house bands, and tight fisted band leaders with time honed chops and hard earned record industry stripes, capable of backing any musician in any style or creating music to fit current trends. I like veterans like Andre Williams, George Clinton, Booker T, James Brown,Al Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Swamp Dogg,Curtis Mayfield, and the many others who have paid their dues and seen it all. They've been around the block and it shows.To me that comes through in the music, some of which is totally calculated to sell records.
It doesn't turn me off if it sounds good. Studio musicians and industry pros know what they're doing and sometimes, when they let themslves go, they can capture that same magic that garage band one timers generate. I don't think anyone is right or wrong here, but it leads me to an album I truly love.

I didn't know a bit about Robert Ward when I got a promo copy of his album, Fear No Evil, back in 1990. I guess the only reason I checked it out was because it had a Meters cover tune on it, and I'm so glad I did. The notes tell you about a veteran musician (turns out I had heard him before without knowing it) who played guitar with The Falcons on Wilson Pickett's debut single, who started The Ohio Untouchables (later known as The Ohio Players), and who did some sessions over in the snakepit at Motown records. He was a regional guitar hero with a unique style that was legendary among peers and record collectors.

Fear No Evil was his comeback album, his first recordings in over 20 years, and he just slayed me. I gobbled up everything he had ever played on, and grooved on that, but this album, mostly his own originals, has been with me since I got it, and never fails to bring a smile to my face.It is hard to describe, but the sound he got from his guitar was so warm and so unique, it had me from the jump. I went to see him live and there was nothing missing, the amazing guitar lines were replicated live and the warmth of the man himself came through as well. I saw him outside the venue and I just went up and hugged him, thanked him, and welcomed him back.He cut one more record that was decent, but it could never equal what I got out of Fear No Evil.
Surely, one of my top records of all time.
Your Love is Amazing

Born to Entertain

Fear No Evil

Trying My Best Not to Never Do Wrong

Dry Spell

I also did this post on Mr. Ward after I learned that he passed away
There were a few of his original 60's sides there..now they are here..
Forgive Me Darling

Your Love is Real

I Found A Love

Soul/Jazz Covers at 8 tracks

Cover Artist-Song-Covered Artist/WriterSide
Booker T. and the MG's-Hang 'em High-Ennio Morricone
Gang Do Tagarela - Rapper's Delight - Sugarhill Gang
The JB's-Watermelon Man-Herbie Hancock
Willie Bobo-Shotgun/Blind Man- Jr. Walker and the All Stars
Jimmy Smith-I got a Woman- Ray Charles
Herbie Mann- Hold On I'm Comin' - Sam and Dave
Area Code 615 - I've Been Loving You Too Long - Otis Redding
Kelly Hogan- Please Don't Leave Me Lonely- King Floyd
Tamlins-Baltimore- Nina Simone/Randy Newman
Meters- Stop That Train- Peter Tosh
Shirley Bassey- Light My Fire- Doors
Pharaohs-Somebody's Been Sleeping In My Bed-100 Proof Aged in Soul
Gabor Szabo-The Beat Goes On-Sonnt and Cher
Johnny Lewis-Chitlins Con Crne-Kenny Burrell
Trudy Pitts-Matchmaker-Fiddler on The Roof
Stylistics-It's Too Late-Carole King
Junior Byles- Fever- Peggy Lee
Ohio Players- Mother In-Law- Ernie K-Doe
Ramsey Lewis- Back in the USSR- Beatles
Ella Fitzgerald-Get Ready- Rare Earth
Baby Huey and the Babysitters-Hard Times-Curtis Mayfield
Ken Boothe- Is it Because I'm Black?- Syl Johnson
Leon Thomas-Song for my Father- Horace Silver

Monday, November 29, 2010

My Isaac Hayes Posts on MOG

Isaac Hayes (I misspelled it Issac in early MOG posts) ranks right up there in my pantheon, coming in as my 10th most played artist since 2007. Over my MOGlife I've made 5 posts with Ike tunes and, sadly, we've been around here for his passing. Here's a recap of my posts on Black Moses..

Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic (posted 12-6-06,2nd MOG post)

Not merely satisfied with being a seminal producer and songwriter for Stax records, Issac Hayes morphed into Black Moses and dropped this bomb in 1969. It featured only 4 songs, Walk on By (12:02), Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic (9:39), One Woman (5:10), and By the Time I get to Phoenix (18:42) and ushered in the very idea of an R and B concept album. The stretched out song lengths provide ample time for grooving by The Bar Kays and extended raps from Mr.Hayes. The funkatizing of the Burt Bacharach and Jim Webb tunes is a nice twist and at the time was a bit of a political statement as white artists had been bleaching R and B tunes for decades. 1969 was not a good year for too many people in the USofA, but this was Ike's time and folks got into this record, absorbed this record, wore out this record, and made him their hero..for a few years anyway. Marvin's-What's Going On, Stevie's-Talking Book, and Funkadelic's-Maggot Brain were on the way in, and the great experiment that was Stax was on the way out, but Black Moses was the first prophet...of rage, of soul, of hip hop.

Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic (1969)

Stax Dies-House Is Born (Posted 11-2-2007)

A few weeks ago mogger Lester Jonze started a series of excellent posts about the importance of album track order. He's up to track three..check those out.

I feel like the final track of an album has significance. It should, hopefully,point to the future or start a new idea, or make you want more.

Stax records was pretty much dead when Isaac Hayes-Chocolate Chip came out in '75. Corporate shenanigans, record company hardball, and bankruptcy had already shuttered the famous building and Ike recorded this record at his own studio. It being '75 there is a disco vibe running through these proceedings, but there's also the Shaft-eque title tune that cooks. Basically though we have horns,strings,piano,drums and Ike, doing their best to fit in.

Don't be fooled by the Ike you know now. When you talk about important figures in popular music in the last 50 years, MR. Hayes is near the top. He was one of the main architects of soul music and the first artist to explore album length soul records. When he decided to do a disco record he did it on his terms, and I Can't Turn Around is the result.

Now if you know your House music history you know Farley "Jackmaster" Funk and Jesse Saunder's, I Can't Turn Around, is one of the first and most influential tracks of House music..

No suprise to me that the last track off Chocolate Chip might become the blueprint for a music revolution..Isaac Hayes had been down this road before.

So on this Funky Friday please take time to recognize, Ike..they didn't call him Black Moses for nuthin'.

I Can't Turn Around (1975)

Under The Covers W/Black Moses (Posted 2-3-2008)

I can't see 50 Cent seeing his way clear to do a Carpenter's cover..But Ike wielded power like fiddy and was able to assert his manhood with the tune.. Abs notwithstanding,I like Ike. I like Ike's mood. They called Mr.Hayes, Black Moses..what did 50 ever deliver for you?

Close to You (They Long To Be) (1971)

Deja Vu All Over Again In Brooklyn (posted 8-19-2009)

I'm not gonna reprint this post because it's about 70's car chases..there's a bunch of cool videos if you want to click through...

Pursuit Of The Pimpmobile (1974)

Time For A Breather (posted 11-23-2009)

This one was just a hiatus notification,but it did include Ike doing the Jackson 5..

Never Can Say Goodbye

Looking back, the Stax Dies House is Born post was probably my fave. It lays down how important I think Ike is to the American music scene as well as having a nice selection of missed moggers in the comments... moovyphreak, mickimicki, soulrocket, jenny, and lizziegreeneyes to name a couple.

Herbie Hancock redux

Responding to, long since inactive MOGGER, ksiglutz in this post from DEC 6,2006, I attempted to EMCD him based on his post about Herbie Hancock's Headhunter's Album..
Original Post (My first on MOG)..
ksiglutz,If you liked Headhunters, Check out Sextant (1972), too, for more afro-funk rhythms w/Herbie. More importantly seek out the same musicians minus Herbie on The Headhunters-Survival of the Fittest (1975). This space-funk-fusion slammer features the awesome breakbeat-vocal freakout,
God Make Me Funky.

Survival Of The Fittest Credits
Bass Drum, Bell, Percussion - Baba Duru
Djembe - Zak Diouf
Djembe, Log Drum, Cow Bells, Sleigh Bells, Guiro, Maracas, Quica, Belafon, Tamborim, Bongos, Caxixi, Shekere, Gankoqui & Agogo, Berimbou, Pandeira, Hindewhu, Conga Drums, Cabasa, Marimbula, Balinese Gongs, Vocals - Bill Summers
Drums, Vocals - Mike Clark (2)
Electric Bass - Paul Jackson (2)
Electric Guitar, Vocals - Dewayne McKnight
Percussion - Harvey Mason
Producer - David Rubinson , Herbie Hancock
Saxello, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone, Accoustic Piano, Vocals - Bennie Maupin

Bonus material:
The funkiest track on Herbie's Sextant record is probably Hornets, but that bad boy is a 19 minute long electro-funk freakout, so I'll go with the relatively pithy, but no less freaky, Rain Dance. Folks didn't mind stretching it out in the 70's..

Sextant credits:
Bass [Fender Electric Bass With Wah-wah And Fuzz],
Double Bass - Mchezaji (Buster Williams)*
Congas, Bongos - Buck Clarke
Drums - Jabali (Billy Hart)*
Effects [Random Resonator] - Fundi (2) (tracks: A1)
Engineer [Re-mix] - David Rubinson
Mixed By [Special Monitor Mix] - Fundi (2)
Mixed By [Synthesizer, Mellotron] - John Vieira
Piano [Steinway], Electric Piano [Fender Rhodes], Clavinet [Hohner D-6 With Fender Fuzz-wah And Echoples Dakha-di-bello], Mellotron, Handclaps - Mwandishi (Herbie Hancock)*
Producer - David Rubinson And Friends Inc.*
Recorded By - Fred Catero , Jerry Zatkin , John Vieira
Saxophone [Soprano], Clarinet [Bass], Piccolo Flute, Cabasa [Afuche], Kazoo [Hum-a-zoo] - Mwile (Benny Maupin)*
Synthesizer [Arp 2600, Arp Soloist] - Dr. Patrick Gleeson* (tracks: A1)
Trombone [Bass, Tenor, Alto], Cowbell - Pepo (Julian Priester)*
Trumpet, Flugelhorn - Mganga (Dr. Eddie Henderson)*
Written-By - Herbie Hancock
My premise for the post was a little off ...it seemed like I was saying the Sextant band was The Head Hunters, which it was not..oh well now that's all patched up. There's also a difference in the release year I listed originally ('72 instead of '73)...I was young and green back in '06. I will continue redoing these old school fixer-uppers cuz I can't bear the silent archive. Only a couple hundred to go. Also of note in the old post was how deadmandeadman busted my chops..that hasn't changed too much over the MOG years.