2018 in Music: The New Discoveries

So, I didn’t realize that I didn’t purchase a lot of new music in 2018. Most of the stuff I got were repurchases of old stuff I had forgotten about or things that were previously released.  Therefore, my new discoveries will include both items released this year and in previous years.

New Discoveries

Citrus Sun – Ride Like the Wind (2018)

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This was a new discovery on two levels. Citrus Sun is a side project of Incognito. Or rather, it IS Incognito, just under a different name and with an emphasis on instrumentals. In fact, this is the first album of theirs to include vocalists, on the title track and 2 others.

Ride Like the Wind is their 3rd release, and it is truly in the Incognito style. The musicianship is top notch, there is the ever-present passion to the music, and of course, Bluey likes to bring the funk to even the most mellow endeavors.

The highlight of the album is the title track, a cover of the Christopher Cross classic. However, having a woman vocalist brings a different flavor to the song. Singer Imaani (my favorite Incognito vocalist) brings a slightly different urgency to Cross’ original vocals.

What is really interesting in this release is they do a 5 part suite – Krabi. Included in this suit are Long-Tail Boat to Railay, My One and Only Tuk, Don’t Tell Me What To Do, Reno and the Queen Pin and Back to the Moon. The reason this is interesting is because there is a fluidity between the songs as the blend together that Incognito hasn’t really done before.

The other thing that is different from most Incognito releases is the horn arrangements are more pronounced and at times, some of the songs feel more like feel good jam sessions rather than planned compositions, somewhat reminiscent of the first 2-3 Incognito releases.

Even though there was no official Incognito release in 2018, Citrus Sun still allowed me to get my Incognito fix. And according to what Bluey said in concert this year, there will be a new Incognito album in 2019, so I can’t wait!

 

Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio (2012)Robert Glasper - Black_Radio

It is fairly regular for me to say on Facebook that I arrive late to certain parties. And this one is no exception. I do not know why I had not gotten into Glasper before a few months ago, but even though I was late to the party, at least I got here.

I’ve been aware of Glasper for quite some time and several friends of mine have given them glowing recommendations. Prior to the social media war with Lauryn Hill, I was exposed to his cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and I was floored by it. That caused me to explore the other tracks on the first album, and then I just took it from there.

That said, I have to say, Glasper is a true talent. In some ways, he reminds me of Prince. Not in his musicianship, but in his attitude towards music. He is something of a purist, and his arrangements on his songs not only remind me of Prince, but also an early Quincy Jones.

His mix of jazz, R&B, hip-hop and rock all create an excellent pallet where even with his covers create a reminder of the glory days of the jazz and R&B genres.

The other thing that strikes me is that there is a spoken word vibe through most of his albums. From the “conversations” that are included between songs to just the tempo and flavor of the song, it really reminds me of the vibe that was showcased in the movie Love Jones (one of my all-time favorite movies).

My favorite tracks on this album include the previously mentioned Nirvana cover, along with Cherish, the Sade cover featuring Lalah Hathaway, Move Love (feat KING), Ah Yeah…That’s Just Great (feat Musiq Soulchild and Chrisette Michele) and of course, the title track, Black Radio featuring Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), one of my top 5 favorite MC’s, who is in top form on this song.

 

The Foreign Exchange – Love in Flying Colors (2013)

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There are some similarities between The Foreign Exchange and the previous entry. Another party that I came late to, although it is a party not a lot of people are familiar with.

I was first exposed to FE through a friend who suggested a couple of tracks. I listened to them, liked it, but didn’t pay much attention. Then another friend of mine, DJ Sean Haley, recommended them through an extensive music conversation on FB. When Sean passed away this past summer, in tribute to him, I went and listened again, and I could see exactly why he recommended them to me.

While neo-soul as a genre has fallen off slightly, Foreign Exchange is still carrying the banner with their mix of R&B melodies, hip-hop beats and jazz sensibilities. Honestly, they are a group that would have been perfect during the heyday of neo-soul along Maxwell, MeShell and others. They also have a slight house vibe going through a couple of tracks as well, which adds to my appreciation of them.

That being said, FE offers consistently great, positive, upbeat music with a certain joy permeating through all of the tracks. The standout on this release is “The Moment.” The combination of the music in the track, the vocals and the lyrics makes it a must play for me. Other notable tracks are On A Day Like Today, Better and Call It Home.

All of their albums to me are quality, but this one which was their first, remains in my regular rotation. And of course, whenever I listen to them, I say a silent thank you to Sean for introducing me to them. May he rest in peace.

 

Jaco Pastorious – Jaco Pastorious (1976)

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I was drawn to this release via going down a rabbit hole on Wikipedia one night. I believe I was looking at the backstory for the classic song “Birdland” by Weather Report, went a couple of other places, then wound up again looking at Weather Report, which led me to Jaco Pastorious.

Pastorious was the bassist for Weather Report and also played with Pat Metheny, both of whom are favorites of mine. I guess I was curious when I read about how he died in 1987, as the result of a bar fight.

I decided to take a listen to his solo efforts and when I did, I was immediately drawn in. With this album, his second solo release, you can hear both why he is such a great part of Weather Report and also why he fit in so well with Metheny.

All instrumental, there is a bit of an experimental vibe here as Pastorius explores everything from jazz inspired rifts to almost world beat/African inspired music. What is even more impressive is that while he was primarily known for being a jazz bassist, the bass is not the primary instrument used on this album. He allows pianos, horns, guitars and percussion to take prominent over his own superb bass skills.

Standouts on this album for me are Come On, Come Over, Continuum and Opus Pocus, but all of the songs mesh into each other as if there is an connected tissue running through all of the songs. I meant to explore some of his other solo work, but I haven’t as of yet. I guess I know what to do in 2019.

 

Tears For Fears — Saturnine Martial & Lunatic (1996)

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I almost made Tears for Fears reunification album “Everyone Loves a Happy Ending” a re-discovery, because when it first came out I despised it, but in recent times it has grown on me. But only so much.

However, in the late summer, I ran across this collection which I was unaware which is a collection of  their b-sides and selections left out of previous releases. And this collection shows why Tears for Fears is one of the most underrated groups in pop music history.

TFF always had a penchant for intellectual and pretentious titles (Schrodinger’s Cat, Deja-Vu and the Sins of Science), to their songs and this is so different. But what lies behind the titles is a progression from primarily electronic based music and typically basic lyrics to songs that really began to explore the complexities that can be had in modern music, along with lyrics that have some real meat to them.

This collection is not without it’s faults, however. Lyrics from “Sowing the Seeds of Love” are used as a rap verse in “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” and well, it doesn’t work. However, the vast majority of the rest of it does work, especially with the 3 instrumental tracks. Truth be told, the portion of “Broken” on Songs from the Big Chair that is an instrumental is one of my favorite TFF tracks primarily for that reasons. So with the instrumental tracks Tears Roll Down, The Marauders and The Body Wah, it showcases their musical acumen.

You can also see how they worked on certain songs as the music behind “When In Love With a Blind Man” is the same backing track that can be found on The Working Hour from Songs from the Big Chair. While When in Love is a good track, The Working Hour is the far superior.

There is also an interesting cover of David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” which is pretty faithful, musically, to the original. Orzabal’s vocals try to invoke the same spirit of wonder and discord, but at the same time, is slight less despondent than Bowie’s version. Also remarkable at the beginning of the song are Orzabal’s voice to Bowie’s, where it seems he is deliberately trying to mimic Bowie’s vocals, then uses the chorus to return to his own style of singing. I’m routinely very harsh with cover versions of classic songs , but this pays great respect to the original.

Overall, it is a nice glimpse into other aspects of the band that we didn’t always get to see/hear and to see how some of the songs we became familiar with were worked on and experimented with.

 

Calling You – Various Artists

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This one is a departure from the other entries. Because this is not about an album, but a song by several different artists.

Many, many years ago, a version of this song by Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra was shared with me. I always thought it was nice but didn’t think much more of it. It was not until a few months ago while at a girlfriend’s house that the original version by Jevetta Steele came on her playlist.

I recognized the music immediately but was thrown by the different vocals. I then investigated the song and saw how many times this song had been covered and noticed the wide range of artists who covered it.  The song has been covered by Natalie Cole, Barbara Streisand, George Benson, Celine Dion and many others.

Now, I think Steele’s original version from the Baghdad Café soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. But other versions I really enjoy are George Michael from his 1993 Five Live release and Jeff Buckley’s version from is Live at Sin-E release, also from 1993. As a side note, one of these days I am going to explore Buckley. Another on the 2019 to do list.

This seems to be a song which just calls to a certain type of artist. One that knows how to convey the pleading tone of the lyrics without sounding desperate, but also to show the gentle side of the song come through. This is a song where I will keep by eye out for covers by other artists to see how their versions compare.

And there is a part of me that wishes Prince had done a cover. Then again, knowing Prince, anything is possible.

One Year Later: I Remember Prince

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Yesterday marked a year. One whole stinking year. I never thought myself one to grieve over a celebrity, but yet, here I am, a year later, still grieving. To some, it doesn’t make sense. To others, they’re right here with me. But how do you explain the loss and pain over someone you didn’t really know, never really shared anything directly personal, but yet their loss feels like someone ripped out your side.

Since last April, from the day I heard the news that Prince died, I’ve had this weird haze over me at times. The news of his death shook me hard. Almost as hard as the death of family members and friends. Because as irrational and illogical and unrealistic as it was and is, Prince was somewhat like family to me. That distant cousin that you never met but somehow, felt a close bond.

The music now is bittersweet. The things I previously thought were brilliant seem moreso, and the songs that I disliked are a little less annoying. The songs that moved me before resonate even more. I get wistful when I hear certain songs, or watch certain videos.

This has been a year of remembering.

I remember how I got into “that skinny motherfucker with the high voice.” I remember how I used to study the lyrics, writing them down over and over, then later becoming a part of an online group who dissected the lyrics even further.

I remember the first of his movies I saw. I remember trying to find a way to say that the bad movies weren’t that bad.

I remember rushing to the record store, being eager to be the first one to buy one of the albums. I remember my first argument with someone who would become a brother to me over buying an album instead of spending the money elsewhere.

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I remember how I felt the first time I saw him in concert and I was in awe. I remember meeting him in person and being thrilled and scared at the same time. I remember the looks I got the 3 times I used his songs as the basis for sermons.

I remember laughing when my son was born and having the time he was born correspond to one of the songs. I remember playing his music to my son when he was a month old and how he smiled.

I remember the joy I felt when I first discovered an online community of people who loved the music as much, and sometimes more, than I did.  I remember the friends I made because of him, and in many cases, the friends I still have, because of him.

I remember rushing out of church right after preaching to attend a concert, still in my ministerial garb.

I remember creating my personal website and how important it was to have a page dedicated to his music.

I remember becoming engaged to someone who I met purely because of our connection to him and how I quoted his lyrics when I proposed.

I remember how I felt when I got the title of one of his songs tattooed on my arm.

I remember using the music as comfort and inspiration. I remember finding solace in the melodies and the lyrics. I remember how sometimes I felt he was singing to me.

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I also remember almost being sued by him. I remember being disgusted when he went around with “slave” written on his face. I remember being turned off when he became a Jehovah’s Witness and I stopped buying his music. I remember when he turned on the fans.  I remember the hypocrisy. I remember the condescension. I remember the disrespect. I remember being angry with him. I also remember still loving the music.

And I remember, last year, getting that first text. Then tagged in comments on Facebook. Watching CNN. Then the phone calls. The e-mails. And I felt devastated, empty, numb. I remember not being able to stop the tears. He was gone. I remember being in denial. Then I remember finally accepting it.

I remember. I remember the man who thrilled and infuriated me. I remember the man who gave a lot and in reality, demanded a lot in return.

Most of all, I remember the genius. I remember the passion. I remember wanting to be a part of that. To be like that. To share in that.

I remember. Not only will I not forget, but I won’t allow others to forget.

I will remember that in my lifetime, I got to witness what genius looked like. I got to be in the presence of that genius, both in person and at a distance. I will remember that music can break your heart and mend it. Because my heart is still broken.

Most of all, I am thankful. I am thankful for the music. For being inspired to love music and be a person that can embrace music, in all its forms. I am thankful that I still have the music and I am hopeful of the music that is to come.

I remember Prince. I will remember Prince. For those who love music, I hope you will remember who and what caused you to love music. For me, it’s Prince. I was given a gift.

I think what I regret is that I never really got to say thank you.

So, Prince, thank you.

I hope you finally got to see The Dawn.

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Peace and Be Wild

Marvin said, “Music won’t have no race”

According to the late, great Marvin Gaye in the song “Funky Space Reincarnation”, in June of 2093, “music won’t have no race.” So if Marvin was correct, we have 77 years until his declaration bears fruit.

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Recently, I was in my car with a friend and I had my iPod playing, as it always does. If I am not listening to a particular album or playlist, it is almost always on shuffle/random. As we were riding, sandwiched between songs from the Brand New Heavies and Eric B. and Rakim came “Looks Like We Made It” by Barry Manilow.

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My immediate instinct was to hit next and try to pretend that me, a 48 year black man from the south side of Chicago, didn’t have a Barry Manilow song playing. My passenger, a lovely 42 year old white woman, didn’t say anything. But I saw the smirk on her face.

“If you tell anyone I had Barry Manilow playing in my car, I will hurt you,” I smiled.

“I wouldn’t tell a soul,” she laughed.

I made a self-deprecating post on Facebook, asserting my blackness, where I posted:

“Apropos of nothing, just because someone has a Barry Manilow song come up on his iPod does not mean said black man is in danger of getting his black card pulled. Not that this would have happened to me today, but I am just making a general statement. #thatsmystoryandIamstickingtoit.”

Of course I was being a smartass, then a friend I have known since college posted a response: “I’m only asking for a friend if Carole King falls into the card pulling category?…again, only asking for a friend.”

My response was, “Tell your friend I hope not. LOL”

Truth is, I have several Carole King and Barry Manilow songs in my iTunes. When I was younger, I owned several Barry Manilow albums and have been a great admirer of Carole King. Also, in my pre-teen days, I once begged my step-mother to buy me tickets to a KISS concert.

Like I said, I’m a black man from Chicago. I’m a House Head. I love R&B and funk and soul music. Prince is one of my favorite artists. I still love disco. I am a fan hip-hop, especially rap from the 90’s that was a part of the Native Tongue posse. I grew up on Parliament/Funkadelic and The O’Jay’s. The very first concert I ever went to was the Jackson 5. I love James Brown, Stevie Wonder Public Enemy, The Isley Brothers, Slick Rick, Sade, Anita Baker, Chaka Khan and so many others. I can talk to you for hours about 60’s, 70’s and 80’s soul and R&B music, can tell you when hip-hop went wrong and explain to you the ways in which House is not just music, but a way of life.

Yet, I must admit, I like Barry Manilow. And Christopher Cross. The B-52’s. The Beatles. I listen to the Alan Parson’s Project, Adam and the Ants, Roxy Music, Depeche Mode, INXS, Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, Porcupine Tree, Talk Talk, Robert Palmer, The Jam, Joy Division, Pearl Jam, Van Halen and a host of other so-called “white folks’ music.” I even have the original Broadway recording of “A Chorus Line.”

And there lies the rub. For some people, there is “black folk’s music” and “white folks’ music.” As if the two monikers are separate and distinct from each other. These discussions particularly arise when the nominations for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame come out and hip-hop or disco act get nominated or even admitted (i.e., N.W.A., Public Enemies, Donna Summer).

Not enough people realize truly that music is music. The music itself is not particular to a race, creed or culture. No, that belongs to the listeners. Music, in and of itself, transcends definitions of race. Jimi Hendrix is one of, if not the greatest rock guitarist of this or any era. And he was a black man. Teena Marie had just as much soul as anyone, despite her (at times) blonde hair and blue (I believe) eyes. Johnny Mathis and Charley Pride were accused by many black people of trying to “be white.” Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke are both accused today of trying to “be black.” No, the music itself, doesn’t have a race. Only the people who listen.

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Then we try to pigeon hole individuals by their appearance into assuming what kind of music they would or should like. I can remember when I was younger my friends looking at me strange for listening to Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, because “black people don’t listen to that type of music.” It didn’t bother me when I would see footage of a Public Enemy concert and see a majority white audience.

When music speaks to you, it speaks to you. It’s that simple.

Lots of different types of music speak to me. Surely, I primarily listen to R&B, House, and Disco, but my actual musical taste are really all over the map. While I will jokingly claim embarrassment over liking Manilow and Christopher Cross, the reality is they made some REALLY good music.

One should NEVER be ashamed of appreciating GOOD MUSIC. No matter who makes it.

So I am hoping Marvin is right, that music, one day, “won’t have no race.” Just wish that was today.

 

My Year In Music 2016 – The Re-Discoveries and One Major Disappointment

My Year In Music 2016 – The Re-Discoveries and One Major Disappointment

This installment I was to dedicate to those albums that I have heard previously, and either gained a new appreciation for them or just really forgot how much I liked them in the first place. And rounding this out, there is one entry that I wished I could like, but I just didn’t, especially since it was the final official release from that artist.

The Re-Discoveries

 

Prince – The Rainbow Children (2001)

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Like many others, when Prince passed away in April of this year, I went the better part of that following week listening to nothing but his music. This included stuff from all the side projects such as The Family, Vanity and Apollonia 6, The Time, Madhouse, New Power Generation, NPG Orchestra, Sheila E and anything else. The death of Prince hit me quite hard to the point that a part of me, 8 months later, is still in mourning.

While I was going through my personal collection, I listened to portions of The Rainbow Children and something struck me. Previously, I had written the album off as overly preachy, too much Jehovah’s Witness ideology and just a little too self-indulgent. While I still hold to the opinion of the first two things I named, I discovered that this was actually a good album.

I had always been a fan of a couple of the tracks on the album (Mellow, Digital Garden, She Loves Me 4 Me), but listening to it beginning to end for the first time in almost 15 years, I discovered a cohesiveness that I overlooked before. While I still (and will always) take issue with his embrace of the propaganda of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, even with that, this is a very well rounded album. There is a lot of Prince’s trademark funk, the stirring slow songs and Prince’s usually infectious melodies and rhythms.

Therefore, I have revisited my previous negative thoughts on this album. After all, once you get done with tracks like 1+1+1=3 and Family Name, you kinda don’t care about the inaccurate theology and the overly preachy overtones.

At least for a while.

 Quincy Jones – Big Band Bossa Nova (1962)

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As I mentioned in the previous entry, I have had a recent love affair with Latin music. Specifically: Brazilian jazz, samba, and bossa nova. It should come as no surprise that Jones would produce an album that pays homage to those traditions.

I had a couple of tracks off this album but never the complete recording but never heard the entire recording until a few years ago. This was definitely one of those times I asked myself, “Why did I wait so long?”

I’ve always loved Jones’s version of Desafinado, also outstanding on this album are: One Note Sambda, Manha De Carnaval and Lalo Bossa Nova. But of course, most people are familiar with the title track, which was used as the theme music for the Austin Powers movies.

This album just reminds me that Quincy Jones truly had very few peers when it came to conducting and arranging and his genius (yes, I said it) spanned many, many musical genres.

MeShell NdegeOcello – Bitter (1999)

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After the release of 1996’s Peace Beyond Passion, I began referring to MeShell as “the funkiest woman on the planet.”  Many reviewers over the years had proclaimed her a female Prince. And while I don’t think I would go that far, I will say that she has remained one of my favorite artists through the years.

When Bitter originally came out, I was profoundly disappointed. I even remember having a disagreement with someone in a chat room over this album, expressing how much I disliked it and I think I may have even said at one point that it sucked. I’m man enough to admit I was wrong. I even told the person I had the original conversation with a few weeks ago about my previous mistake in judging this album.

They say that with age comes wisdom. And now, 17 years later, I can safely say this is an excellent album. In many ways, I kinda compare it to Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear, which was largely misunderstood by fans and critics alike, but later gained a reputation as a brilliant piece of music. And this is how I now think of Bitter.

The reason I made the comparison to Gaye is that MeShell has stated that this album was inspired by a breakup she went through with a long-time girlfriend. Except, Bitter suggests it was a breakup she didn’t want to happen.

For me, the top moments of the album come with the tracks Sincerity, Wasted Time, Fool of Me, Adam and Grace. The latter, a somewhat wistful and hopeful pleading, I know view as nothing short of brilliant. Maybe because I too have experienced a breakup with someone I didn’t want to break up with allows me to resonate with the album more. In fact, I can’t listen to Grace and not be reminded of an ex-girlfriend, whom I still harbor positive feelings for. Whatever the reason, I think this easily can be placed in MeShell’s top 5 releases.

Evanescence – Fallen (2003)

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Speaking of ex’s, I was introduced to this album by an ex and I always associated it with her. After our breakup, I didn’t listen to this album for some time because, unlike the situation I had with Bitter, I don’t have that many fond memories of this particular ex.

My hard drive crashed a few months ago and I had to reinstall all of my music. During the installation, My Immortal come on, and I remembered that I actually really liked this album.

There has always been something about lead singer Amy Lee’s vocals I have appreciated. And in going back over this album, with songs like Going Under, Imaginary and, of course, Tourniquet, it is her vocals and her intonations in conveying the emotions of what she is singing about that first interested me and which interests me again.

I’m still on the fence about the religious imagery contained in the album. Many have said that Evanescence is a Christian Rock band in disguise. And while I can see where such labels would come from, I also think in part it was used to diminish them as a band, since Christian rock seems to get a pretty bad rap from a lot of rock/pop fans.

Chicago Transit Authority (1969)

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I’ve never had mixed feeling about this album. In fact, from the moment I was introduced to it back in the late 90’s, I had considered this a wonderful album. However, I hadn’t listened to many tracks from this album in quite some time.

Over the summer, I randomly decided to play this album and I was reminded how wonderful it was. A lot of people will talk about the horn sections of Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power, both amazing horn sections in their own rights. But Chicago’s horn section I think is quite underrated.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? is one of their signature songs, but I think their cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s I’m A Man, with that absolutely AMAZING drum/percussion solo is what sends this over the top for me. And of course, Beginnings, Questions 67 & 68 and Liberation just round out what is just a top notch effort. This album, to me, shows why they were worthy of inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.

 Maxwell – Maxwell’s MTV Unplugged (1997)

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When Maxwell first came out, I dismissed him as another pretty boy with an interesting hairstyle and a decent falsetto. I even remember someone years ago, responding to something I had on my personal website, claiming he was equal or better than Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.

However, it was his appearance on the Chris Rock show where he performed the Mellowsmoothe version of Sumthin Sumthin that I became a fan. I accidentally ran across his performance of Al Green’s Simply Beautiful (which was pretty decent), I decided to revisit the Unplugged performance.

Let me get the not great stuff out of the way first. His covers of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work and Nine Inch Nail‘s Closer, to me are horrendous. To the point, I really can’t stand listening to them. This time around was no different. I literally cringed when those two tracks played.

But the rest of the performance was great. The obvious influences of Prince, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye are ever present through the performance. He amassed an impressive band and between the Urban Hang Suite album and this performance, it is easy to see why neo-soul gained such popularity.

The energy and the urgency of the vocals comes across nicely in this recording. The first 3 tracks, The Suite Urban Theme, Mello Sumthin (The Hush), and The Lady Suite all draw you in. And while he lost me with the two aforementioned tracks I don’t like, I was quickly sucked back in with the remaining tracks.

Herbie Hancock – Fat Albert Rotunda (1970)

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In addition to Latin music, I have been catching up on Herbie Hancock’s back catalog. One thing that has struck me is the number of artists that have covered or sampled his music across the years. I did not count on recognizing so many songs and or parts of songs that I have been familiar with for years.

Such was the case with Fat Albert Rotunda. Originally written for Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert special, this marked Hancock’s transition from straight jazz into jazz fusion and jazz funk.

Just about every track on this album is a gem, but Tell Me A Bedtime Story (later expertly covered by Quincy Jones) is paramount among them. I mean, it’s just great! Fat Mama, Jessica and Lil Mama are also excellent and listening to these tracks not only reminded me of what I liked about Fat Albert when I was younger, but also how excellent of a musician that Hancock was and is.

David Bowie – Tonight (1984)

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David Bowie was another one of my favorites whom we lost in 2016. After his passing, I spent about 2 days listening to nothing but his music. It is interesting how when someone dies all of the sudden you want to absorb their music when while they were alive, you just took it as it came.

But when I listened to Tonight again, I had a mix of emotions. I know Bowie was not fond of this album, nor were a lot of fans/critics. Me, I always liked it. I even wrote a review on this album when it came out my senior year in high school for a newspaper called New Expression, which was an all-city newspaper in Chicago.

Coming off the success of Let’s Dance, Bowie continue the sound that Nile Rodgers created for him. Many die-hard Bowie fans didn’t like the direction of this album and Bowie himself distanced himself from several tracks on it.

For me, I have nothing but fond memories of this release. Not only was I reminded of being in high school and all the promise that held, but I also remembered the first time I heard Loving the Alien, a song I didn’t fully understand when I first heard it. This track remains in my top 5 Bowie songs. Once I understood the lyrics (a questioning of one’s belief in God), the arrangement of the song with the 4 minute instrumental part just seared it in my brain.

I am also fond of his cover of the Beach Boys God Only Knows, along with the tracks Tonight (a duet with Tina Turner) and the other hit from the album, Blue Jean.

Don’t get me wrong, this album does have it’s problems. And a couple of the tracks sound as if Bowie was kinda phoning it in. But this is one of those albums that will always be special to me, maybe more for the memories it evokes rather than it’s true quality.

The Major Disappointment

 Prince – Hit-N-Run Phase Two (2015)

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I stopped buying Prince’s music for a number of years and got copies from friends or stuff I could record off the internet. When he died, I decided to buy a couple of albums I didn’t have and a couple of the newer releases. So I bought Art Official Age, Hit N Run Phase One and the release with 3rd Eye Girl and all of them were (to me) unimpressive. I was hoping this one would be different. It wasn’t.

To be honest, I haven’t really enjoyed a Prince album since 2004 when Musiciology and The Slaughterhouse were released. In some ways, it felt like subsequent releases, he was trying to prove that he was still musically relevant by appealing to the masses and trying to get hits instead of just doing what he really wanted to and was truly capable. I had long said that I thought Prince should have stopped playing pop/R&B and started doing jazz albums, where he shined. But what did I know.

I do know this. His last official release was lackluster. Actually, it was less than lackluster. There is nothing on this album that reached out to me and grabbed me. My biggest disappointment was his re-working of the popular bootleg song Extraloveable, renamed “Xtralovable. I mean, it’s horrible. Absolutely horrible. I remember back in the days when I was active in the internet fan groups for Prince, someone said in regards to the reworked version of Endorphinmachine (from The Gold Experience) that had also been circulating as a bootleg for a few years that he “had no right to do that to that song.” I feel similar about the official version of Xtralovable. But it was his music and he could do what he wanted. Too bad it sucked.

The only song that had any sort of promise is Groovy Potential, which perhaps might grow on me over time. And I suppose Screwdriver is okay, but there is something missing from that song that I cannot put my finger on. But overall, for me, this was one of Prince’s most disappointing releases and for this to be his final release, it is a smear on an otherwise outstanding legacy.

My Year in Music 2016 — The New Discoveries

I used to do this when I kept a blog on Live Journal. I would recap the music I had discovered, re-discovered and was disappointed in for the year. So I figured I would revisit this trend for 2016.

Most of us know that 2016 has been a rough year for our musical icons. Within the first 6 months of the year, we lost David Bowie, Maurice White, Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest and of course, Prince.  Then later on in the year, we would lose Colonel Abrams, a fixture in many dance and house music circles. There is also the influential Leonard Cohen and others. In 2016, we just lost a lot of people who had a definite impact on music and the music community.

So let’s start with music I discovered in 2016. Keep in mind, this is not a list of music that was released in 2016, because quite honestly, I don’t always keep up with new releases. More, this first list contains albums I had not heard before and really enjoyed. There is a new release or two in this list, but overall, new releases will not factor very heavy in these listings.

New Discoveries

 

Ingrid Chavez – A Flutter and Some Words (2010)

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Of everything I have discovered this year, it is ironic that my favorite discovery would come from someone originally introduced by Prince in 1990.

Ingrid Chavez is a poet/spoken word artist, author, singer/songwriter. She has an ethereal quality that I have previously enjoyed on her one and only Paisley Park release, “May 19, 1992.” Some may remember her as Aura or the Spirit Child from Prince’s ill fated (and almost unwatchable) movie, Graffiti Bridge.

“A Flutter and Some Words” showcases Chavez’s singing abilities more than I had previously experienced. There is also a real laid back vibe over the whole album, which one would expect from spoken word artists. The arrangements are excellent and her voice matches perfectly with the instrumentation contained. The songs run the gamut from love to introspection to regret to self-affirmation.

Probably my favorite track is “By The Water.” This song showcases her ability to use her voice to accentuate her lyrics, which are grateful and thankful to a long-time partner as she reminisces about the beginning of their relationship.

Other standout tracks Terrible Woman and Exhale. This is a release that I have been coming back to time and time again and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

 

 

Genesis – Selling England By The Pound (1973)

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I cannot for the life of me figure out why I never delved into Genesis during their Peter Gabriel period. It honestly makes no sense. But I’m not done, so I am guessing I might be highlighting Genesis again, but as for now, I must say, this 1973 release is one where I am kicking myself for not getting into sooner.

 

My appreciation for Genesis really started during the time Phil Collins’s was the lead singer. So I was more familiar with the pop style of Genesis as opposed to the progressive rock band that they were during Gabriel’s reign. Gabriel was always an interesting songwriter to me, showcased in his many solo releases, but I never really appreciated the work he did for Genesis.

“Selling England By The Pound” showcases a lot of what made Genesis a force in the early and mid 70’s. While the lyrics are always interesting, I think the musicianship on the album is top notch. And I have a personal preference (thanks to Prince) for songs that tend to go longer than the average 3 to 5 minutes. With 5 out of 8 songs clocking in at over 7 minutes each, there is a lot of music here.

 

Another one where I wonder what took me so long.

 

Gato Barberi – Que Pasa (1997)

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Over the last couple of years I have developed a great fondness and appreciation for Latin music, especially Brazilian jazz. While Barberi was actually an Argentinian artist, his music definitely has a strong Latin vibe and influence.

 

I should say one of Barberi’s earlier works, Caliente! (1976), is among my top 20 favorite albums, this more recently release has all the hallmarks of why I began to appreciate him in the first place. His saxophone playing is in top form, and his trademark vocal input just adds emphasis to the overall feeling of each of the songs.

While I am sure I probably heard some of these tracks before on the (sadly) former Smooth Jazz radio formats, this album exemplifies what made smooth jazz so popular. Each track delivers.

 

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)

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I remember when it was mentioned back in late 2015/early 2016 that the Tribe was going to release a new album, many were skeptical, including myself. Then Phife Dawg passed away and we were informed that there was indeed a new release coming.

 

This was an emotional release, for those of us who have been long time fans of the Tribe and for the members of the group themselves. And that emotion oozes on several tracks.

 

One of the criticisms of this album was that this was basically a Q-Tip solo album, with sparse input from Phife and Jarobi. However, one could say the exact same thing if they listed to their first album, People’s Instinctive Travels, so I have to reject that description. I think this was a fitting tribute to the loss of Phife and honoring Tribe’s long legacy as one of the greatest groups in all of hip-hop.

 

While I truly enjoyed this album , especially the tracks Black Spasmodic, Dis Generation and Mobius, I did find myself missing input from some of the other members of the Native Tongue posse, such a De La Soul, Jungle Brothers and even Queen Latifah. I think their inclusion would have rounded out what was already a fitting last album and tribute to Phife. Nevertheless, some Tribe is better than no Tribe, and overall, I did enjoy this release.

 

Incognito – In Search of Better Days (2016)

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Hands down, Incognito is one of my favorite bands. I have followed them faithfully since the release of Postitivity in 1993. Very rarely have they disappointed. And they didn’t this time either. Recurring lead singer Maysa Leak is back, along with several other vocalists and band leader/founder Bluey Myrick once again leads them in the outstanding musical tradition I have come to know and love.

 

And I would be remiss that this past October, I finally got to see them in concert and I was in hog heaven. Not only seeing them perform but also getting to meet and talk to Bluey in person. I even bought a second copy of the CD (my first copy was digital) just to get Bluey’s autograph, and I am not a fan of autographs. Musically, that was the highlight of my year.

 

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After the concert, I went and re-listened to this album from start to finish and that just increased my appreciation for this album. Now, I will not say it is my favorite of their releases (that honor goes to No Time Like the Future and Eleven), this album definite has some outstanding tracks. Namely with Better Days (which I wish they had performed in concert), Everyday Grind and Crystal Walls.

Maysa’s vocals are in fine form on this album and while I had previously been impressed with their percussionist from the album, seeing him live was truly something else.

 

 

Shelia E. & The E Train – Writes of Passage (2000)

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While many people are not that familiar with Ingrid Chavez, most people know who Shelia E. is. As Prince’s long time drummer, and as we found out shortly before he past, his former fiancée, Shelia has established herself as a top notch musician and percussionist.

 

The mostly instrumental album is replete with her trademark percussion skills, slight Prince influence on the horn arrangements, and her typical joy when performing. This is another album among these that I mentioned that would have found (or maybe it did) a place in Smooth Jazz formats.

 

There is no doubt that this release and her other instrumental release right after this, called Heaven, were among her best of her post-Prince releases. Although to be honest, a couple of those weren’t that great. So this came as a welcome surprise.

 

Astrud Gilberto – Astrud’s Finest Hour (2001)

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As I mentioned earlier, I have been delving into Latin music a lot over the last couple of years and have always appreciated Astrud Gilberto. I first became familiar with her due to the tribute song Basia did to her on her first album titled simply, Astrud.

 

But here is one thing about Gilberto. I am not sure if I like her voice. I mean, it’s very plain, she doesn’t use a lot of inflection or articulation when she sings and she doesn’t have a particularly powerful or melodic voice. I don’t know why, but I like it.

 

Part of what bolsters Gilberto is the musicianship behind her songs. Supported often by Antonio Carlos Jobim, a legend in Latin jazz circles, the music behind her lyrics often elevates her vocals. Sometimes it feels she is just a placeholder for certain songs and other times, he voice fits in perfectly, as imperfect as it is.

 

This release is a collection of her songs largely released in the 60’s and 70’s. While her trademark “Girl from Ipanema” is included, there also are other gems. Such as her versions of “Fly Me To The Moon,” “How Insensitive,” and my favorite of her songs, “Summer Samba (So Nice).” So on the basis of that alone, makes it a great addition to my library.

 

Various Artists – Immortal Beloved Soundtrack (1994)

 

In addition to Latin music, I have also been exploring classical music over the last couple of years. It’s something I have long had an interest in and only recently began listening to and purchasing classical releases.

 

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This is the soundtrack to the movie which was a biopic on Beethoven. I don’t really know enough about classical music yet to really lay out what I really like and what I don’t like, although I do like piano and clavicle driven classical music. So this offering goes along great with that, although I could do without the opera tracks, because, well, you can’t like everything.

 

But this has been a good entryway to the larger world of classical music for me, and I can see myself collecting a lot more classical offerings. I can’t say I have a stand out track on this release, but I do find myself enjoying the entire album a great deal. We will just have to see what I am exposed to next.

 

And for this one, if you have recommendations you’d like to make about classical albums you really enjoy, please send them to me. I’d love to hear them.

A Couple of Words from a House Head on the Unsung Fallout

I am not a DJ. I am not a musician. I wish I was. I did learn to play drums and took piano and guitar lessons, but sadly, I didn’t stick with the last two. But I love music. No, I LOVE MUSIC. Really. I do. Music is like air and food to me. I need it, I crave it. It comforts me, it relaxes me and it excites me.

However, I have often said if I had to go back and select a career field now, I would be a music historian. I love reading and studying about the history of music and what certain people did out front and behind the scenes to create this thing I love called music.

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I owe part of my appreciation of music, in all of it’s forms (except for opera and country — sorry, can’t hang with those) to House Music. Growing up in Chicago in the 80’s I was exposed to the powerful force that music is and can be and will continue to be.

So I watched the Unsung episode on Frankie Knuckles and the Roots of House with great interest, knowing I was going to be disappointed at times.

Well, I was and I wasn’t. No matter what, I wasn’t surprised.

Yes, there were many discrepancies in the Unsung piece. We knew there were going to be. It is galling to me that legendary Chicago DJ Ron Hardy wasn’t even mentioned. Nor was House Music artist and Chicago fixture Chip E. Certain other places weren’t mentioned that were instrumental, like Imports, Etc, the Muzic Box. Groups like Ten City were ignored. There was NO mention of the influence of the Salsoul Orchestra and Loleatta Holloway. Larry Levan only got a brief mention. I could go on.

But the reality is, you can’t tell a 40 year story completely in 44 minutes. It’s just not going to happen, nor should we expect it to.

What is perhaps the most disappointing is the way the House Music community is divided over these issues. Friends of mine, people I respect are drawing battle lines over which story needs and deserves to be told and over who was left out and why. Individuals who have crafted onto themselves certain titles that they may or may not deserved are being mercilessly (and sometimes rightfully) mocked. A lot of hurt feelings and egos are abounding right now. And it’s sad.

I will always the first time I took someone who grew up in the north suburbs of Chicago, in a predominantly white area to the Chosen Few Picnic a few years ago. After the picnic she said to me, “You all are your own tribe. A beautiful tribe.” She got it.

The House Music community has always been, at least for me, a place of warmth and acceptance and a place where I could be whatever I wanted, act however I wanted, and just revel in not only the music, but the spirit of the people assembled. Whether it was 5 or 5,000 people, we all shared in the love we have for House Music.

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That love is taking an ugly turn right now. It’s happened before, and most likely it will happen again. Two years ago when Frankie Knuckles passed away, we were united in sadness and grief over the passing of one of our icons. Twenty-two years earlier, we were all saddened over the passing of Ron Hardy. We’ve lost other legends of the House scene in that time, some noted and others ignored. But at the end of that grief was the music, the community and the spirit of House.

Many are angry over the way the history of house is being presented. As an amateur historian, I can tell you, this will ALWAYS happen. However, the House community has an opportunity right now that those in Black Greek Organizations are now struggling with. We can talk to the people who were involved, get their stories, and put them all together.

Some people are going to exaggerate and outright lie to make themselves look better. That’s just a fact of human nature. But the important thing is to get the stories told and then we can sort everything out. If we are not actively seeking those involved, from the days of the Paradise Garage in New York to the most recent Chosen Few Picnic, then we will be able to get more reliable information.

The bottom line is we are collectively upset because someone else didn’t tell our story right. Think about that statement and read it again. We’re mad because someone else didn’t tell our story right. It’s OUR story. We need to tell it. The right way and the real way and stop expecting someone else to do it for us.

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Let’s remember. TV One did the episode not just to tell the story, but to sell advertising, gain ratings and tell a story. They have no loyalty to the House Community, even if a producer or two claims such. The story of House is OUR story and we need to be the ones to tell it. Sure, we may still argue and fight and disagree, but at least it will be us telling the story.

There are many of us with the ability, the access, the means and the motivation to tell the story our way and get it out to a broad audience. Maybe now is the time to stop bitching at each other and figure out a way to let the REAL story of House be told to those who don’t know or think they know.

They say history is written by the victors. Well, we’ve already won. We’ve won because we are fortunate enough to have been a part of that wonderful thing called House Music. The question is now, what are we doing to do with it?

My Love Hate Relationship with Prince, Part 2

It was the summer of 1990. After buying a Prince bootleg called “The Royal Jewels,” I walked a couple of blocks down a Baskin-Robbins to get a milkshake. Something, as I said previous, I never do. But it was hot that day and I wanted something cool to drink.

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There were a fair amount of people in the Baskin-Robbins that day, all no doubt feeling the same way I was feeling. Hot and tired. But I was excited. I had new Prince music in my hot little hands. Prince music most people had no idea even existed.

As I waited in line, I noticed the workers in the store peering over those of us in line to something that was going on outside. I turned and noticed a big black limo. I didn’t think much of it, as limos in Hyde Park in Chicago weren’t that much of an uncommon occurrence. So I waited, wishing everyone would hurry up.

I turned to see two rather large black men (in height and girth) walk in the store, look around and then walk right back out. I admit, I thought that was strange. Then maybe a minute later, a large white man walked in with a big white beard. I thought to myself, “this guy looks familiar.”

Then I heard someone say, “I think that’s Prince!” from behind the counter.  I turned and looked but didn’t see anyone but the big white guy, when I realized who the guy was. It was Big Chick, Prince’s longtime bodyguard. I was almost at the counter at this point, but I tried to play it cool. I turned around again and I saw him. Prince was standing behind Big Chick, wearing some sort of jumpsuit and big sunglasses.

My heart wanted to bust out of my chest. I was standing in the same room with Prince!, I was thinking. And right after I bought…………..then the next thing that came to my mind was “OH SHIT!”

The bags at the record store were brown paper bags but they were kinda sheer. So you could actually see what was in the bag. I turned the bag around so that the image of Prince’s face was facing inward, instead of outward like it was. But it was too late.

I ordered my milkshake and waited. The people behind the counter, realizing it was Prince in the store were obviously excited. The people behind me let Big Chick and Prince come to the front, but Chick waived them off saying, “We can wait.” I noticed Big Chick glancing at my bag.

I finally got my milkshake and was getting ready to walk out. But I stopped and looked at him. Damn that man was short! He was wearing heels but even then he couldn’t have been higher than 5’5. I’m 5’10 or so.

I grabbed some courage and said to him, “Are you Prince?”

He just nodded his head. Big Chick then looked at me and said, “I saw your bag. He wants to have a look,” pointing at Prince.

“Does have to?” I replied, started to get nervous.

Prince just smiled and held out his hand. By this time I had heard that Prince was none too pleased with his bootlegs getting out and I had read an article in Rolling Stone, I think, about how he was trying to clamp down on it. I knew if I showed him my bag, he would keep it and I would lose the $50 I had just spent. But Big Chick stared me down and I handed it over to Prince.

Prince pulled the album out the bag, smirked, showed it to Big Chick, who also smirked, and then put it back in the bag. To my surprise, he handed it back to me and shook his head.

“You’re going to be disappointed. You just wasted your money,” Prince said to me, still smirking.

I think I shrugged or said “Okay” or “thank you” or something stupid. I started to reach out of my hand to shake his, but I chickened out.

I left the store and walked the block or so back to my car. I just sat in the car, amazed that I had just met Prince. I thought of all the things I wanted to say but didn’t. I wondered if I should have wished him a happy belated birthday since it was June and our birthday’s were just a day apart. I was also somewhat embarrassed that he caught me doing something illegal, since technically that’s what bootlegs are.

And I wondered what he meant by saying I would be disappointed. Maybe he was just trying to dissuade me from buying future bootlegs or maybe he was  trying to mess with my head. No matter the case, I thought about it long and hard.

I got home and listened to it and enjoyed MOST of it. There were a couple of songs that were complete clunkers. But overall, I really liked it and didn’t regret my purchase one bit.

Flash forward a couple of months to August of the same year. I get word that a new Prince album, Graffiti Bridge, was coming out. Naturally, I was excited. I went to the record store and purchased it without looking at what songs were on it. Once I got it, I flipped the album over and then I saw it…

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Eighty percent of the songs on Graffiti Bridge were also on the Royal Jewels album. And I remember standing in the record store thinking, “So that’s what he meant.”

I kept the Royal Jewels album for a few months before I sold it back. But that didn’t stop my pursuit of every studio bootleg I could get my hand on. I didn’t really get into the live bootleg recordings for a number of reason, although I have collected a few here and there, especially if it was a concert that I attended.

The next couple of years in my Prince fandom were relatively mild. Releases like Diamonds and Pearls and the Symbol Album kept me going. But it wasn’t until I joined the online internet Prince fan groups that some of my opinions about Prince would change and I would come to understand that I was indeed, NOT the worlds biggest Prince fan. Not by a long shot.

To be continued…

 

 

My Love/Hate Relationship with Prince, Part 1

It’s been over a week since Prince, the artist I loved to hate and hated to love, died. To say that his death has had a profound affect on me would be an understatement. While I shed tears over the death of Walter Payton, that was brief and mournful.

Prince’s death hurt. I mean really hurt me. It was in that hurt that I really came to grips with the fact that this figure, whom I somewhat grew up with, was gone. No longer would I hear the new music and say it sucked. No longer would I be skeptical about upcoming concerts. And most of all, no longer would I criticize whatever the latest move coming from Paisley Park would be.

I realized I criticized him so much because I expected so much from him. I do view him as a musical genius, alongside modern contemporaries such as Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, John Lennon, David Bowie (who also died this year), John Coltrane and a couple of others. But I also rank him with other musical greats, such as Mozart and Beethoven. Because he was just THAT talented.

I first became aware of Prince when at a family friends house, he had a copy of Dirty Mind, Prince’s 1980 release.

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My mother saw this album cover and forbade me to listen to it. From the album cover alone she just knew he was “dirty” and given that I was only 11 or 12 at the time I didn’t need to be listening to that filth.

It is my mother’s fault that I became a Prince fan. Had she not forbade me, I probably wouldn’t have paid attention, because, if I am honest, to my 11/12 year old mind, he looked a little gay.

But listen I did. And one song in particular leaped out at me. It’s wasn’t “Head” or “Sister” like it was for many of my friends. While I enjoyed songs about oral sex and was amused by a song about incest, it was “Party Up” that caught my attention. It was political. It was forceful. And I no longer cared what my mother thought, I just knew I wanted to hear more.

While I liked the “Controversy” album, it was “1999” that really cemented me as a fan. It was something about that album and drew me in. I remember listening to the songs and studying the album cover as if it held the secret to something major and big. For some reason, the fact that it was a double album really impressed me.  To this day, “1999,” “Automatic,” and “All the Critics Love U In New York” remain among my favorite Prince songs.

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It was around this time I first saw Prince in concert, with The Time and Vanity 6 at the old Chicago Stadium, I believe. And I was amazed. Previous to that, I had only seen the Jackson 5 and Earth, Wind & Fire in concert. Prince equaled both of them and eclipsed them. It was after that concert that Prince became my favorite artist.

Then came “Purple Rain.” It was like everyone else was let in on a secret I had known for a couple of years. Prince was someone to pay attention to. Although, to be honest, outside of the salacious nature of “Darling Nikki,” as an album, I was underwhelmed. When I list my top 10 Prince albums today, Purple Rain doesn’t make the list.

Like many others, however, I was caught up in the”purple frenzy.” I liked the movie, and seeing the concert was cool, but I wasn’t as excited as everyone else. My mother was still on the fence about him, especially when another family friend told her that she heard rumors that Prince would urinate on people during the concert. Of course, anyone who has seen the movie can guess where that rumor came from, but my mother still thought he was a dirty, nasty man. Ok, well, she wasn’t entirely wrong.

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One day I was listening to “God,” the song on the B-side of Purple Rain and my mother walked into my room and asked me who that was I was listening to. When I told her it was Prince her expression completely changed. As she listened to the lyrics, I remember her saying, “maybe he’s not all that bad.”

While I was ok with the “Around the World in a Day” and “Parade” album, I always went back to “1999” for my top Prince music. “Under the Cherry Moon” was a horrible movie, but I liked it anyway, mainly for the “wrecka stow” scene. And Prince’s first instrumental track, “Venus De Milo” exposed me to a different side of him and of music in general. That song was simple and beautiful and wonderful. Almost every romantic mixtape I made for women during those days would always include that song.

But it was “Sign Of The Times” that really cemented it for me. I was in college and getting ready to pledge my fraternity. Money was super tight. I was spending a lot of money on the items I and my line brothers needed during that period. But right as things were about to start, “Sign Of The Times” came out. I rushed to the record store to buy it the morning before I went to class, and when I got home, I sat and listened to it, mesmerized. No album ever moved me that way SOTT did. I was almost in a daze. And the fact that one of my line brothers got really pissed at me for “wasting money on a stupid Prince album” did nothing to deter me.

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From there, I was a die-hard Prince fan. From the moment I heard “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” and then “Forever In My Life” I honestly believed no one could top Prince. My sister was (and still is) a die-hard Michael Jackson fan and we used to have debates about who was better. After SOTT came out, I thought MJ was a punk, a pretender to the throne. The true “king of pop,” in my biased view, was a Prince.

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Then I saw the movie. That made it worse. The SOTT movie to me was amazing. I remember sitting in the theater with my girlfriend at the time almost ignoring her. I was transfixed. Even though I had already seen him in concert, something about that movie just took me to a place I had never been before.

For a number of years, SOTT was my absolute favorite album, but as they say with age comes wisdom, and now it is #2 behind Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life.” I have heard critics say that SOTT was Prince’s SITKL, and I think there is something to that. Because to me, that was his pinnacle. A couple of albums have come close, but nothing touched SOTT.

Around this time I started hearing about Prince bootlegs. Of stuff that he just didn’t release or didn’t want to release. I had already gotten into all of the B-side and bought every one I could find, but the bootlegs were something else. That truly put me in the “secret Prince club” that many people didn’t know about.

In the summer of 1990. I was in the Hyde Park area of Chicago and and just purchased a copy of a Prince bootleg called “The Royal Jewels.” It was a 3 record set and when I read the track listing, I was excited because I had never heard of any of those songs before. I was excited and thrilled an anxious. I did something that day I rarely do. I stopped at Baskin-Robbins to get a milkshake.

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I can’t believe I found an image of this online — but this was the exact album cover, which will become important later

It was because of that weird desire to get a milkshake after buying this bootleg that I would meet Prince, face to face.

To be continued.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Love Affair With House Music, Part 1

Not too long ago I watched the movie “Brown Sugar,” and one of the central themes of the movie was “When did you fall in love with hip-hop?” After watching the movie, I began to ask myself about my relationship to House Music. This was only a few months after the death of the legendary Frankie Knuckles, the “Godfather of House Music” and all around nice guy. I have been a self proclaimed “House Head” almost for as long as I can remember. Yet, I have to think about what began my love affair with House.

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The Godfather of House Music, the legendary Frankie Knuckles

Before I really get into it, I feel the need to state that for me, House Music is really not about the music. Well, it is, but for me, House is more about the culture, the community, the vibe, the people and the places.

The music itself, for me, can be anything from 70’s soul and funk, to disco, to dance music, to some hip-hop and a lot of other genres. A few months ago, I saw DJ Ron Carroll make a post on Facebook distinguishing between house and disco, and while he may have been accurate, drawing a definition between the two isn’t necessary.  Disco, for me and many others, was never a dirty word. The disco we liked and listened to was part of our musical upbringing. But disco would become an integral part of what makes up House.

I have a t-shirt somewhere that says “House Music — Not Just Music But a Way of Life.” And I think that perfectly states how I feel about House Music.

I think my first “house music party” was at a friends party here in Chicago on the West Side, probably about 1979 or 1980. I know I was one of the youngest people there as the people I went to the party with were 3-4 years older than me. To my 12 or 13 year old brain, it was an amazing party and I talked about it for days.

Back then, “punking out” was popular and I believe it was a “punk out” party (please don’t ask me to explain punking out — LOL). I don’t think we were calling it House at the time. But I remember dancing with this one girl and she smiled at me and said, “Let it go. It’s alright” or something to that effect. I really think that was the first time I got lost in music. While I am not 100% sure, I think it was Parliament/Funkadelic playing. There was a lot of music being played that I had never heard and I thought it was all amazing. I don’t think I “let it go” but I know I had a great time.

From then on, anytime there was a “house party” I wanted to go.  Around the same time these mix tapes started appearing everywhere. Everyone in school had one and we shared them and passed them back and forth. That was around the first time I had ever heard of The Salsoul Orchestra. I didn’t realize at the time they weren’t a real orchestra in the sense of classical music. I didn’t understand all of the different genres of music at the time, I just knew what I liked. And this “orchestra” was really cool, I thought.

The next major event was when I was 14 or 15. My “cousin” (her mom and my mom were really good friends) had a birthday party. There were two notable things about this party:

1) I was the only guy there among about 15-16 girls

2) Steve “Silk” Hurley was the DJ.

I danced with about 5 or 6 girls at this party, made some new friends and had a great time, but when I was informed of who Hurley was, I was impressed. I was told about the clubs he DJ’d at and it was then that I really became interested in this club called “The Muzic Box.” I had heard of it before as a couple older students at school would mention it. I was told that Hurley would sometimes open for this guy named Ron Hardy. They said if I liked Hurley, I had to hear this guy Hardy.

ron-hardyI had heard one of Hardy’s tapes at the time and it was pretty good. But I didn’t fully appreciate it. I remember the next night I got a Ron Hardy mix from someone at school and really listened to it. I was transfixed. I remember listening to the songs he played, the blends and transitions, the manipulations of treble and bass. I couldn’t get enough. It was one of those old Walgreen’s cassette tapes and within about 3 months I had played and rewound and fast forward the tape so much it snapped.

During this time, several friends in high school were experimenting with being DJ’s. One day I went to this guy’s house named Olumide (or Loom) and he had turntables set up in his basement. There were two other people in Loom’s basement that day and I said I wanted to try. I remember the record I tried to mix was The Skatt Brothers “Walk The Night.”

I sucked. REALLY bad. It was HORRIBLE. They all laughed at me, as they should.  I tried to mix a couple of other songs (I think ESG’s “Moody” was one of them) but I just let Loom do it because it was a lot better than I was.

I remember on the bus ride home thinking there was something about this music and I had to get further into it. I wanted more.

Sometime afterwards, me and Loom and another guy Charles (who would go on to become one of my best friends) and this guy Wallace went to this record store called Imports, Etc. I was told this was where all the DJ’s bought their records. Loom was looking for something and I had no idea what I was looking at, I just remember soaking up the environment. In that record store, I felt like I belonged.

Around this time I attended my first “Mendel Bi-Level” party. Mendel was an all-male Catholic high school here in Chicago which threw really good parties. In fact, what was odd about Chicago is that some of the best high school parties were thrown by Catholic schools, including Quigley South and Leo High School. Maybe the Catholics knew something we didn’t.

At the time, I lived around the corner from Mendel, but my mother said I couldn’t go. So I snuck out of the house and walked the two blocks to Mendel and attended the party.

It was dark with strobe lights and disco balls lighting up the darkness. People were dancing almost as if in a trance and it was almost like the walls were sweating. I didn’t know very many people but I found a few people I knew.

I remember being confused because in the corner was this guy who was dancing in front of a speaker. He wasn’t dancing with anyone, just in front of the speaker. I thought it was weird. With all of the women at that party, why would anyone dance with a speaker? Eventually, I would understand.

After the Mendel party, I wanted more. It was becoming like a drug. I had to have more, experience more, be around it more. Going to the Mendel party, I needed to take it to the next level. I needed to take it higher.

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Please ignore the incorrect grammar

I needed to go to the Muzic Box.

Sometime that summer, my mother went out of town for some trip with my grandmother. I knew she would never let me go to the Muzic Box on her own, so I figured this was my best opportunity. So I conspired with some friends to go.

It was 1 month after my 16th birthday. It was the first time my mother left me alone for a weekend by myself and I was super excited. I was nervous and anxious, but I had to see what this Muzic Box place was all about.

There were other clubs I had heard of — The Warehouse, The Power Plant, The Playground, The Gallery, but I was focused on the Muzic Box. So when I told a couple of people I wanted to go, they jumped at it.

The Muzic Box was located on Lower Wacker Drive in Chicago, a place that is dark even in broad daylight. There were homeless people around and it was dank and nondescript. I remember thinking as we drove up “how could a club be in such a location?” I was starting to think I had been sold a bill of goods that this couldn’t be the where the club was that I had been fantasizing about for months.

As we walked up the street to the entrance, I could hear the music coming through the walls. Well, to quote Risky Business, “a preponderance of bass.” Then I saw the people lined up. I started a to feel a little better. After about 10 more minutes I would guess, we walked in.

Within 2 minutes, I was home. I literally felt like I was at home. Even though it was my first time, I felt as if this was the place I was meant to be. As the Klingon’s say, “It was glorious!” (had to give another pop culture reference)

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The Muzic Box, circa 1985-86.

Shortly after we got there we ran into a girl from high school I knew named Sonia. She grabbed me and we started dancing. Sonia was a tall, chubby, pretty girl with an infectious smile and a great attitude. I don’t know if she knew it was my first time there or not, but she grabbed me and didn’t let go. We maneuvered to close to the middle of the dance floor and just started dancing. I admit, I was half dancing and half taking in the surroundings.

Never before had I seen so many people with blissful looks on their faces. It was something I think every minister would want to see. I didn’t realize at the time that a good number of those people were high on something or another, but it didn’t matter. What I understood at that moment is that it was all about the music. People moved in unison, even if they were going different moves. Honestly, it was like we were all a part of the same whole. Everyone feeding off the music and the DJ and the vibe of it.

As I was looking around while half-dancing, Sonia tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a couple next to us. There was a little smirk on her face and I knew it was something I had to see.

Next to us was a woman, on her knees, giving her male partner oral sex, perfectly timed to the music, if you get my drift. Now, I had seen porn movies before but never anything like this.

60913833But it wasn’t dirty. Aside from the initial shock of seeing a public sex act, there was something natural about it. Something about it made sense. The guy next to us was oblivious to everything.  His head was thrown back, his eyes were closed as he moved to the music and moved to the (I assume) pleasure he was getting. It made sense. It was still shocking, but it made sense.

The rest of the nigh was a blur. It was a mix of the smell of sweat, cigarette smoke, liquor, weed, excitement and a few other things I can’t recall.

Although, now that I think about it, The Muzic Box was the first time I ever saw two men dancing together. Let me be more specific. Was the first time I ever saw two men make out in a public space.  I had a cousin who was gay and I saw him kiss his boyfriend, but never anything like this. Seeing two men make out at the club also seemed natural. It was no big deal. It the context of this community I would come to call House, it all made sense.

After the experience at “The Box,” as some of us called it, I went to many other House parties. Not only the clubs I described above (tho I don’t think I ever went to The Gallery), I went to parties at places like Sauers, The Blue Gargoyle, The Mars Bar, The Loft, and a couple of other places that escape my memory at the moment.

The term “House Music” by this time was en vogue and I was a dedicated follower. While I appreciated other forms of music like rock and punk rock, ska, and pop, nothing moved me like House Music.

I think if we could have afforded it at the time, I would have convinced my mother to buy by turntables and a mixer, because I was totally swept up in the House craze. Since I couldn’t do that, I listened to every mix tape I could get my hands on, whether it was a DJ of the likes of Frankie or Ron or Steve or my friends basement tapes. I listened to “The Hot Mix 5,” a group of DJ’s who were on the old WBMX in Chicago, religiously. I knew them all by name, never by face.

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“Friday night live, ain’t no jive, Chicago dance party”

But it was Frankie and Ron who became like gods to us. They were the Holy Priests of this congregational House community that I joined and pledged my allegiance to. From their pulpit like DJ booths, their sermons about love and the healing power of music were delivered by mixing the songs, blending of harmonies and melodies, explaining to us how the rhythm moved, manipulating the treble and bass, accentuating the highs and lows and sent us into a trance. The homilies would go on for hours and we never tired of it.  Heaven, they preached to us, was on the dance floor. Through their musical prayers, they helped us to realize our potential and our connections to others. These Priests brought us to the happy place and showed us a vision of their god, through music. Our Amen’s and Hallelujah’s were manifested by our dancing, our sweating, our physical, verbal and emotional responses to what these priests offered us. And it made us feel good.

To Be Continued

My Grandfather Might Have Been A Rolling Stone

Genealogy rant — feel free to skip if this bores you.

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So here is what frustrates me the most and I think I need to have a conversation with my mother about something. My grandfather (mother’s father) does not show up on ANY US Census records that have been released thus far. He was born in 1908 and the records through 1940 have all been released. But he is nowhere to be found. I found his marriage license to my grandmother from 1934 and his Navy enlistment and discharge records from the 40’s, but a thought hit me tonight.  Keep in mind part of doing genealogy, especially when it comes to black folks, is detective work and assumptions.  So here it goes.

I’m starting to think my grandfather isn’t who we thought he was. I’m starting to think he changed his name, that he was not born under the name I am familiar.

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Maybe Veronica Mars could help me out

Several years before he died, when I first began getting interested in my family tree, he told me his mother’s name and where they lived/where he was born. I also knew his sister, who appears to have had a different name than him (not that unusual — similar situation on my father’s side of the family with his sisters).

And let’s remember that during that time, prior to 1940 and the widespread implementation of social security numbers (of which my grandfather did not get one until the early/mid 50’s), it was easy and somewhat commonplace for people to change their names, especially blacks from the south. So it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he may have changed his name. Which of course would lead to me wanting to know why, but first things first.

The fact that I can find no documents prior to 1930 listing my grandfather is suspicious to me at best. In fact, the first time he shows up on any document is when he married my grandmother in 1934.

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Or maybe I need Batman. And no, I am not suggesting my grandfather was Waldo.

I am not suggesting he was a criminal or anything like that (though he could have been, to be honest), but I am thinking something is amiss.

Add to the fact my mother and I deduced sometime last year that he and his second wife were most likely never legally married, even though they were together for more than 30 years (he left my grandmother for the woman who would become his second wife).  Even with that, I don’t believe Illinois had a common law marriage clause at the time.

None of this changes my opinion of my grandfather. He was a really cool guy. And he was a lot of fun. But I’m curious. I’m curious if this little link to my past is about to take a detour.

The only reason this bothers me is because I am now really regretting I didn’t know him better. That I didn’t spend more time with him and talking about these things. Maybe he would have told me the truth, maybe he wouldn’t. It took him a long time to tell my mother about the sister she had who died shortly after childbirth, something my grandmother never spoke of to me or my mother.

Which is the ultimate issue with any genealogy or historical research. It’s not what you know that gets you, it’s what you DON’T know, and the possibility you may never know.

I should really go to bed.