Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Darkness Falls Across The Land . . .

To make up for my lameness of not doing anything for Halloween this year, I'm gonna reminisce about the good times I had last year. My excuses this year have to do with still feeling sick after a couple weeks and needing desperately to unpack my shit after the recent move. Maybe I'll watch a scary movie later tonight.

So, last year I had a great costume, possibly the best ever. Here I am with my Halloween posse during our pre-party before heading out to the real party in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

I'm the one in the middle, rockin' the mini-turntable (a vestax, in case you're curious). Maybe you need a closer look at the dopeness of my costume. See below:

The turntable was connected to an "amp-can" in my backpack behind me which made a whole lot of noise. At one point I walked on to the dance floor at the party we went to and tried to take over with my mobile DJ costume and I would have had a chance, but Mr. Stationary DJ wasn't having it and tried to drown me out. I would like to think if I was DJing a party and some dude walked on to the dance floor with a costume like mine, I would give him some time to shine . . . Come on, I had a disco ball floating over-head even and a holster full of funk and soul. So I retired to the upstairs and we had our own little party in the living room which I DJed.

I remember one of the "musical" high-points of the night was when I played the monologue from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" as spoken by Vincent Price. I remember sitting in silence listening to the monologuge, unaccompanied by any music, and it's truly haunting. It's available on the 2001 "Thriller" resissue. The monologue contains a second verse to Vincent Price's "rap" that went unused:

The demons squeal in sheer delight
It's you they spy, so plump, so right
For although the groove is hard to beat
It's still you stand with frozen feet
You try to run, you try to scream
But no more sun you'll ever see
For evil reached from the crypt
To crush you in it's icy grip

Vincent Price (with a particularly wimpy intro from MJ) doing his "Thriller" Voice-over

The CD also has Rod Temperton, the mastermind behind Heatwave, who wrote the lyrics to "Thriller" talking about how he whipped up the "rap" in the limo on the way to the studio to record with Vincent and Michael.

For the liner-notes readers only, the interview excerpt from Rod Temperton discussing the making of "Thriller"

More from Rod Temperton coming soon . . . don't sleep on Heatwave. 'Til next time . . .

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Some homework for my faithful readers . . .

when I'm not working as a non-profit fair trade vigilante, I like to dabble in music journalism. Over the course of the past few years I've written a handful of articles that have been published in Wax Poetics and the Fader. I've posted the Wax Poetics article as PDF in the left hand banner, or you can click on the links below to find them:

My first published article (in the U.S.):
"Also Sprach Deodato"
from issue 7 of Wax Poetics

"Black Rio: Brazilian Soul & DJ Culture's Lost Chapter"
from issue 16 of Wax Poetics

"Bossa's Boss: Joao Donato Steered Brazilian Music in New Directions"
from issue 22 of Wax Poetics

Next on the horizon are projects about Tim Maia, Os Mutantes and maybe Cal Tjader . . . stay tuned.

I will soon post my two articles from the Fader on Tim Maia's Racional phase and a profile on tropicalist Jorge Mautner. As you can see my writing specialty is Brazilian music and I know, I've been holding out on the brazilian tunes, but not for much longer . . .

Like the new banner?

This is just a quick little post to give Michael aka Ionic a proper thanks for working with me to redesign the blog appearance and make it look slightly less "blogger-ish". We took a photo that I have scanned from a Brazilian music magazine from 1976, messed with it in photoshop and then searched for a font and color. We had already come up with the font we liked and the color and then I said, hey, this reminds me of something else . . . hmmm

Some more music coming very soon. I think it will be some rare American soul tunes as selected by pioneering Brazilian DJs on some early DJ mix LPs.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be: Unusual Covers

I am almost completely out of my old house. I have one more car-load to pick up after work today and then I'm done! Well, done except for all of the unpacking, sorting and dumping of shit that won't fit into the smaller apartment I've moved in to. I was trying to think of some songs that had to do with moving and moving in with a girlfriend/partner/whatever. The first one that came to mind was Lou Bond's cover of the Carly Simon song "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be." Now, Lou Bond is an interesting character. Cosmo over at Cosmo's Crates recently posted Lou's 1974 album (his only LP), but I've been digging this album since 2002 when my friend Hugh in London sent me a tape with Lou Bond on one side and Dennis Wilson's "Pacific Ocean Blue" on the other. I had asked for the Dennis Wilson album, but it was Lou who I kept returning to.

Thinking I was on to some deep shit here I insisted to my then girlfriend that the song "That's the way . . ." was a Lou Bond original, but she persisted that she recognized it from somewhere. I was wrong. Carly Simon wrote it for her debut album and it was a top ten hit. I can be forgiven cause I didn't listen to the radio back in 1971. The song is a bold one for a male soul singer, but Lou was not your average soul singer; he was sensitive. The song is a powerful one that describes the expectations and pitfalls of adult love and romance. First it gives a portrait of the singer's parents in their unhappy marriage and then the singer begins to speculate about his/her own future and how it could be or should be and then it ends in a more triumphant, optimistic tone.

I am moving in with my girlfriend, but we are not about to have kids (that I know of), so the autobiography only goes so far. Here's Lou Bond with:

"That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be"

And here are a couple of other interesting cover tunes:

Cal Tjader's take on the Stones' "Gimme Shelter"

Patato & Totico's latin-percussion version of Jorge Ben(jor)'s "Mas Que Nada"

I Had To Say It! (a millie j. encore)

So I am now nearly out of my former domicile and almost fully into my new one. Man, moving is stressful. I feel like my mind is in just about a million places trying to keep up with a dozen last-minute errands and projects. One such errand had me at a junk store looking for an end table for our new place and guess what? They had records. I was good though and only picked up two: The stellar two-sided 12" disco single of Sister Sledge's "He's the Greatest Dancer" b/w "We Are Family" and the Millie Jackson LP "I Had To Say It." My friend and record collector guru, Greg aka Caz aka Gregzinho had been telling me about this record ever since I mentioned I was living with the "ghost" of Millie. He even had a double he was gonna give me, but we never got around to making the exchange. So for a mere $1.99 it was mine.

On this 1980 recording Millie takes a stab at this newfangled thing called "rappin'" and does a hell of a better job than Debbie Harry did on "rapture." Many of the first female MCs consider Millie to be the O.G. The current issue of Wax Poetics, their first photo issue, has an excellent article called "Who Shot Ya: A History of Hip-Hop Photography" that references a photo by Janette Beckman called "Women's Class of '88" with Monie Love, MC Lyte, Roxanne Shante, the Real Roxanne, Queen Latifah, Ms. Melodie, Sweet Tee, Yvette Money, Sparky Dee, Finese and Synquis . . . and Millie Jackson, who was referred to as "the Mother of them All."

I wish I had that picture to post; couldn't find it anywhere online. Instead I'll post this other album cover of Millie's that my friends Brig and Lynn have in their collection, specifically for the cover.

Butt, I digress . . . the song we have here is the title track from her 1980 "I Had To Say It" where she raps and raps fairly well. I'm not gonna say its the best example of early MCing, but Millie definitely brings her own style to the track and even references Fat Back and Sugar Hill as the other crossover hits of the time. Listening to her dish shit on all kinds of deserving and undeserving demographics its fitting that Millie of all soul singers would be the first and (best) to take a stab at rapping.

Here's "I Had To Say It"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Don't You Hate It When A Friend Who's Been Living In West Africa Asks You To Hold On To His Records!

This isn't exactly what happened, but when my good friend Josh recently made a visit to New York from Monrovia, LIberia he brought some records back to leave in storage. Rather than the records sit in some soul-less storage unit in New Mexico I offered to babysit them for him for as long as I, er, he wanted. That's the kind of friend I am, I guess. I'm such a sport that I offered to record some of the records for him and send him the best MP3s. I know, too nice, but he's a really good friend.

To say that the box contains some "funk" would be true on two counts. There are some first -rate records with third-rate covers, but there is also a "funk" that exists in between the records, around the records and permeates everything about the records. Having lived in Indonesia (which is also equatorial - check a globe) I know that you cannot avoid this moldy, damp, sweet funky smell from getting into just about everything you own: books, clothes, and it particular loves infesting vinyl. Let's just hope there isn't any ebola or some shit lurking between the seemingly innocuous grooves . . .

I have barely begun digging into these records, but the first week I had them I tore through everything he had by Christy/Christine Essien from Nigeria. Josh has (count 'em) four albums by Nigeria's "Lady of Songs." The albums Josh has run from 1978-1988 and each one has at least two great songs, but "One Understanding" from 1977 is solid nearly all the way through. I've included songs from the first three cuz the 1986 one sadly suffers from a severe case of synthdrum-itis.

I've picked out a handful of songs from these albums.

Click on the highlighted song to download, or listen on this page using the built-in flash player
"Time Waits For No One"


from the album "Time Waits For No One" from 1978

"You Can't Change Your Man"

"Take Life Easy"

from the album "One Understanding" from 1979

"Nobody Can Stop You"

from the album "Give Me a Chance" from 1980

Josh and his lovely wife will be leaving Liberia soon and off to Bangkok, Thailand so the story goes, but if you have any interest in Liberia (and you should), check out Josh's great blog about current events and expat observations over the past year at "Liberia Ledger."

He also worked with a photographer, Chris Herwig, on this really great photo essay about wheelbarrow mobile sound systems.

Josh picked up some of his records on a harrowing record hunt in Dakar, Senegal that he wrote about here. Before he was an international non-profit warrior he was a writer and this is a good, short read and one of the most death-defying "diggin" stories I've ever heard of. If any readers out there have some even remotely dangerous digging stories, send them my way and we'll post 'em.

More tunes from Josh's box of equatorial African records coming soon!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My Tenure in Millie's House

While interviewing for a sublet space in this 19th century Brooklyn home, having just learned that I'm an avid soul music fan and collector, Elizabeth mentioned that "Millie (not Mahalia) Jackson" used to live here. At that point Elizabeth could have led me to a cage in the basement and said, "and this will be your room," and I would have probably still taken it. For a just thirty-something white soul-music fanatic from Portland, OR this is about as close as one can get to touching soul music history. Shit, Millie used to have an unregistered lounge with stage, bar and wood panneling in the basement. And she parked her big-ass limo in the backyard that she paved over.

The picture to your right is this same house back in the 1930s when the Works Progress Administration (WPA) hired bunches of photographers to document just about every damn thing in the five boroughs on New York City. This is the picture of Millie's house before she lived in it. That open window on the second floor is where my kitchen is and my room is directly is in the back of the house on the same floor.

The picture to your left here is the house today. The funny thing is that the neighborhood is probably not as nice now as it was in the 1930s and boy was it in rough shape in the years in between. This house is more or less on the front-lines of Brooklyn gentrification. Sitting on the official dividing line between recently gentrified Clinton Hill and rapidly gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant aka "Bed-Stuy." The recent feature article about Mandrill in Wax Poetics talked about the band's roots in this neighborhood back in the sixties and anyone who's listened to the radio in the past decade knows that Biggie repped Bed-Stuy all-the-way. Imagine the affront to have this whitebread record collector participating in the occupation of Millie's old digs! It even used to be a crack house between Millie and my residencies.

But like Millie, my term here is coming to an end. I'm moving in with the gf and moving (back) to Williamsburg. The best I can bet for is to live in the converted loft where that dude from TV on the Radio used to live "before they were big." No offense, but it doesn't have the same cache.

Let me leave you with this great song of Millie's from her 1974 "Still Caught Up" album. This was my first favorite Millie song and still probably my favorite. The way Millie could build an emotional story to each 3 1/2 minute song is astounding. In this song, the spoken word intro with the spacey keyboards and funky clavinet give her a suitable platform for her possesive and possessed demand to her husband to quit the "other" lady.

This concludes my first entry into Soul Spectrum. This is the kind of stuff you can expect from this blog in the coming weeks and months: soulful songs (and occasionally albums) & related social, political or personal mutterings. The next post will be up early next week, if not sooner. - the ambassador