Sunday, December 31, 2006
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Since his death on Christmas, sales of his CDs have (not surprisingly) soared. As we noted, 1962 "Live at the Apollo" and the 1991 four-CD box set "Star Time" were both fast ways to get into the Godfather of Soul.
The WSJ's Jesse Drucker points out that other discs have quickly made Amazon's top 10 "Movers and Shakers" list. Beyond those seminal live and boxed set discs, Drucker points out "numerous other albums and collections highlighting key periods for the artist." Below are his selections of key recordings (comments are a mix of his, mine and other reviewers):
Funk 101: This double CD captures the true origins of funk with "Out of Sight," the 1964 hit that put an unprecedented emphasis on rhythm, and then heats up several degrees with "Cold Sweat." From "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" to "Say It Loud-I'm Black and I'm Proud," to live versions of "Licking Stick-Licking Stick" and "Mother Popcorn," this recording is funkalicious.
After Mr. Brown's core band quit in frustration in 1970, it was quickly replaced by a new backing ensemble, featuring the thumping bass of an 18-year-old Bootsy Collins. John Corbett wrote: "This is the edgiest, meanest, leanest lineup maestro James Brown ever assembled, and the music they made in this single year is still among the freshest, most soul-stirring funk on earth decades later."
Lesser known than the first Apollo record, this two-CD concert from 1967 was reissued in 2001 with unreleased tracks. A nearly 24-minute-long medley features "There Was a Time." Rickey Wright wrote: "This second Live at the Apollo caught Brown giving full stick to both his classic soul-ballad style and the funk his band was developing practically in front of the crowds' ears."
Three separate collections capture Mr. Brown's production work on recordings by members of his musical entourage: the J.B.'s, Bobby Byrd, Marva Whitney and others. Parts of Lyn Collins's "Think (About It)" are among the most sampled in hip-hop history -- "It takes two to make a thing go right." For old school rap and hip hop freaks, this CD is the mutherload of beats and funky grooves.
You will instantly recognize Bobby Byrd's deep, resonant voice from James Brown's "Sex Machine; Lynn Collins is the featured diva on Funky People Pt. 1, "Hip-hop fans will recognize "Blow Your Head" as the source for Public Enemy's very first song, "Public Enemy #1". If you love simple basslines, funky rhythms and soul full voices, you will find every track is a winner.
This one fills in gaps left in the previous parts, including some rare historic moments. "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothin' evokes the future funk crawl of Sly Stone; Also on this dsic: the "criminally underrated female vocalists Lyn Collins (in a fiery "Giveit Up") and Vicki Anderson."
Good funky stuff!
Music: Soul Man
December 30, 2006; Page P2
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Reflections on James Brown
When James Brown died, I posted the usual obit here. But when I got this email from my blogless friend Rob Fraim, I knew it required posting. Here is Rob's recollection of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown:
I was saddened to read of the death of James Brown. Not just because he was a true music innovator (he was), and not just because he was a great showman (which was certainly the case), and not even because he influenced everyone from Prince to The Rolling Stones to Dr. Dre (which point is undeniable.)
No, in addition to all of the accomplishments noted above, I was sorry to hear of Mr. Brown’s passing because…James Brown saved me from getting a butt-kicking in the 7th grade.
What possible link between The Godfather of Soul and a junior high school kid in small-city Virginia, you ask? Well, be careful what you ask for, as they say. Now you’ve done it. You asked and you have to listen to my story.
The year was 1970 and I was making the move from the 6th grade (translation: big shot in elementary school) to the 7th grade (translation: lowest of the low in junior high.) Now, that’s a challenging enough proposition in and of itself – as many of you likely remember. But my experience was all the more “interesting” due to a few factors:
1) I was just over 5 feet tall and weighed 140 pounds. Not exactly “height and weight proportionate” as they say.
2) This was the first year of what was, at the time, a rather hotly debated program which proponents called “desegregation busing” and opponents called “forced busing.”
As to Item #1, time and nature eventually took care of that. I grew 7 inches in the 8th grade without gaining weight and became less of a target. But remember, right now we’re talking about the 7th grade and the Growth Spurt Salvation was a long way off.
Regarding Item #2 I had no strong sociological opinion at the time on the issue. Heck I was only 12. With the passage of time I have come to recognize that there were definitely some positive effects of the busing program - not only in societal terms but also on a personal level. I know now that it was ultimately a healthy and broadening experience and that it had a part in developing some of my present viewpoints and values.
However, that is now, and back then was then, and all I knew in the 7th grade was that I was getting my butt kicked on a semi-regular basis.
The eventual breaking down of the racial barriers and the friendships that were ultimately forged were still a long ways away. The first few months of that year were tense – marked by obvious racial divisions, frequent bomb threats that led to evacuations of the school, and lots and lots of fights – which invariably came down upon racial lines.
As noted, in the 8th grade my life changed. Not only did being a lot bigger mean that I could dispense the butt-kickings myself if required, but I was just less… oh, I don’t know…tempting, to those who were in the mood to kick some little guy’s behind.
So the 8th grade was ok. But the 7th grade - yow. First day – fight. Second day – fight. Third and fourth and so on and so on – suggestions that fights were in the offing. It doesn’t sound like a big deal now – mainly a lot of “give me your lunch money or else,” some pushing and shoving, and so forth. But when you’re 12 years old that sort of thing is kind of scary.
Now if someone had found me another nice little chubby 7th grader to square off with – someone with whom a fight was more fair – hey I’d have been good to go. Black, white, I wouldn’t have cared particularly. Just give me another 5-foot tall chunkster trying to steal my lunch money and it would have been Go City. But it wasn’t little guys after me. It was big guys. Now, just go to any junior high school and you’ll see an incredible span of kids – some who look like they’re 9 years old and some who look like they should be in the NFL (or in the case of my school, on a chain gang.) And it was the homicidal defensive lineman that I was contending with (or at least that was how it seemed at the time.) And given the racial divide at the time and the enemy camps mentality that existed, all of my nemeses were black.
(If you’re wondering where James Brown comes into this and whether he rolled in, flung off one of those great capes he wore, and hollered “Please, please, please – stop beating Robbie up!” just stick with me. In a minute I’ll get to J.B. and how he saved me.)
Back then – pre-iPod and boombox days – kids often carried little battery powered radios. They were called transistor radios and if you remember that you are officially old just like me. The sounded terrible and had lousy reception and it was all AM radio, but we thought they were cool. Well, as you would imagine the radio station selection also was broken down along racial lines. The white kids played rock-and-roll and Top 40 on AM station WROV and the black kids played soul and R&B on AM station WTOY. As if skin color didn’t clue you in which group was which, all you had to do was listen and the schism was apparent.
To the black kids, James Brown was The Man. James had moved from his earlier, more melodic (though always with a fantastic beat) work to his intermediate stage – which he himself later described as much more rhythm-driven. And there ain’t no dance tune like a J.B. dance tune.
And on top of that he was singing about two things that resonated with his fan base at Ruffner Junior High School. He sang “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” – which touched the consciousness of the black kids, and he sang about “Hot Pants” and being a “Sex Machine” which was sure to get the appeal to just about any teenager. The white kids by and large weren’t paying attention yet (stubborn refusal to like black music) but the black kids were loving some James Brown.
And so was one chubby little white kid.
I’ve written here before about my long-time love of the blues and how from the time I was a tyke the blues just hit me where it counts. Well, rhythm and blues is just another step from there and soul music and funk are just harder hitting versions. So I liked what I heard.
Well, one young teacher – in a naïve attempt to bring down the walls – decided to have a discussion period in class one day about what the kids liked and didn’t like, TV shows, food, music, etc. Sort of a gather ’round the campfire, make S’mores, and get-to-know-you kind of deal. I think she thought that we’d all see how very much alike we really were after all doggone it, and end up singing “Kumbaya” and having group hugs. (This was 1970 after all.)
Of course, it didn’t work. I can’t remember what the first round-the-room poll was, but this discussion was going nowhere. Then she said, “Well, let’s ask everyone their favorite radio station and their favorite group or singer.” Oh Lord, did she not see where this would go?
Inevitably it was like this:
White kid: WROV – The Beatles
Black kid: WTOY – James Brown
White kid WROV – Led Zeppelin
Black kid WTOY – James Brown
Then she came to me. “So Robbie, what’s your favorite radio station and performer?”
Me: “WTOY and James Brown.”
You know in the cartoons when a surprised person does the back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth thing with his head – complete with eyes all bugged out? That was the reaction in the room. Not so much from the white kids, who just sort of looked at me in confusion. Instead, the double takes were from the black kids.
Now, the storybook end to this story would be that everybody got up, joined hands, got misty-eyed and sang a rousing chorus of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good).” However, after a momentary pause the preference poll resumed and predictably, went right back to original pattern of black-white-black-white/James-not-James-James-not-James. My variance was but a brief, bright ray in the ongoing struggle that continued after that, and continues to this day.
But after class several black kids caught me in the hall.
Them: “Do you really like James Brown?”
Me: “Yeah, he’s cool.”
Them: “He’s the baddest.”
And interestingly enough, the butt-kickings eased off after that. And, true item – I saw one of the lunch-money stealers heading my way one day and saw another kid stop him and tell him to leave me along. His rationale? Honest to goodness: “Nah, he’s all right. He likes James Brown.”
As I look back on integration/forced busing now I can see both the positives and negatives in the idea. The debate raged back then and if busing were an issue now the debate would continue. It wasn’t much fun at the time, but as I mentioned before I think there were some long-lasting positive results in terms of bringing down barriers and so forth. I’ll spare you the “some of my best friends are black” line that often rings so hollow - although if you were to meet my brother-in-law and my two nephews, or the folks I go to church with, or if you were to show up at my house in my lily-white neighborhood and meet my son’s friends who are hanging out at the house I think you’d get my point.
Can I credit James Brown with all of that? Not really. Back then I just liked his music.
But I can thank Mr. James Brown for one thing. I got noticeably fewer butt-kickings and managed to keep a lot more of my lunch money thanks to him. So artistry and talent and showmanship aside, I appreciate him for that.
And with all due respect to Gerald Ford, who also passed away recently and who by all accounts was a fine man, he was nowhere to be found in 1970 at William Ruffner Junior High School and offered precious little relief to a certain beleaguered 12-year old. No, that particular job required more soul, more funk, more James.
“Going down to the crib
Let all hang out
Where soulful people knows what it's about…
Said the long-hair hippies and the Afro blacks
They all get together across the tracks
And they party!
Oh, on the good foot
You know they dance on the good foot
Dance on the good foot”
-- James Brown – “Get on the Good Foot”
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Peter Gabriel - Solsbury Hill
One of my favorites:
I was a huge Genesis fan, saw them live outdoors in Forest Hills years ago (check out The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, amongst others), and continued with Peter Gabriel long after -- he was the creative force behind the band, and he continues to be a unique original to this day. He still puts on a great live show, check out any of the concert DVDs -- Growing Up Live is ~10 bucks; Secret World Live and Still Growing Up are both excellent).
Not many artists will name their first 3 solo releases eponymously. In order, they are:
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Blonde Pregnancy Test
Monday, December 25, 2006
Boymongoose' 12 Days of Christmas v
12 Days of Christmas video clip, re-worked Indian style. Performed by animated popstar, Boymongoose and Indian boyband.
James Brown, Godfather of Soul: RIP
That's not what anyone wanted for Christmas: Soul and funk legend James Brown passed away at 73:
NYT/AP: "Along with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and a handful of others, Brown was one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years. At least one generation idolized him, and sometimes openly copied him. His rapid-footed dancing inspired Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson among others. Songs such as David Bowie's ''Fame,'' Prince's ''Kiss,'' George Clinton's ''Atomic Dog'' and Sly and the Family Stone's ''Sing a Simple Song'' were clearly based on Brown's rhythms and vocal style.
If Brown's claim to the invention of soul can be challenged by fans of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, then his rights to the genres of rap, disco and funk are beyond question. He was to rhythm and dance music what Dylan was to lyrics: the unchallenged popular innovator."
If you are not familiar with the Godfather of Soul (kids today!) then here are a few CDs you should know of to complete your musical education:
Live at the Apollo: the seminal live performance, and why Brown was known as the hardest working man in show business.
Star Time: phenomenal 4 disc set, covering all of JB's contribution to to American music;
And lastly, James Brown's Funky Christmas: Just because its that time of year . . .
Other JB videos worth checking out:
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Oh Holy Night New Orleans Style
Thanks to John B who tips us to this wonderful piece of music, first heard on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip". Their Christmas episode featured a group of New Orleans musicians, organized by the Tipitina's Foundation, playing a beautiful and original arrangement of "Oh Holy Night" for the show, featuring:
Musicians benefiting from The Tipitina's Foundation
Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Trumpet
Kirk Joseph, Sousaphone
Roderick Paulin, Saxophone
Frederick Shepherd, Saxophone
Stephen Walker, Trombone
Mervin "Kid Merv" Campbell, Trumpet
Bob French, Drums
For more info, see the The Tipitina's Foundation Mission
The Tipitina's Foundation a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has worked diligently to uplift the music community of New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, the Foundation responded by rebuilding New Orleans' music culture. Initially, the Foundation addressed the immediate needs of our exiled musicians and allowed them to carry on with their lives. Now the foundation is using the legendary music club, Tipitina's Uptown, as the center of its relief efforts by hosting a newly-opened Music Co-op Office that allows musicians to conduct their business activities during the daytime, free legal and accounting seminars, free music lessons for music students, regular Master Seminars, and help with housing information. An important aspect of the rebuilding process has involved finding replacement instruments for both professionals and music students alike. So far the foundation has given away over $500,000 of new instruments. Through these efforts, the Tipitina's Foundation is saving the musical traditions of New Orleans.