It’s been a few days so I’ve got three tunes for you today!
First up is a track I previously mentioned as the dominant sample used in Public Enemy’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona.”
It’s been a few days so I’ve got three tunes for you today!
First up is a track I previously mentioned as the dominant sample used in Public Enemy’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona.”
Well, to get right down to it, formed in 1968 by three Panamanian born, but Bed-Stuy raised brothers, here’s Mandrill with a song off of their 1973 album Just Outside Of Town: “Two Sisters Of Mystery.”
Like it? Buy it.
Up next I’ve got two lovely ladies who simply do not know what to do about love.
Born in 1937, Anna King began her career as a gospel singer, but joined The James Brown Revue in 1963 as a replacement for Tammi Terrell (Whitmore, 2007). A few years later Terrell would go on to find great success with a series of duets with Marvin Gaye before dying of complications from brain cancer, only a month shy of her 25th birthday. Anna King, however, would become the only one of James Brown’s female singers to have an entire album produced by “The Godfather of Soul” himself; this album being 1964’s Back To Soul. Not only did James Brown produce this album (and it certainly shows with its precision horns and organs) but he also wrote many of the songs himself. Albeit he did so under numerous pseudonyms, such as today’s song being credited to “Jim Jam.”
Anna King left The James Brown Revue towards the tail-end of 1964 and released her final single, an “answer record” to her former employer, entitled “Mama’s Got a Bag of Her Own.” King then effectively retired, only to return to gospel, singing in Duke Ellington’s “Sacred Concerts.” Anna King became a minister for the remainder of her days and died in Philadelphia on October 21, 2002.
Today’s song was released as a single in 1963 before appearing on King’s sole album Back To Soul, here’s the “Jim Jam” penned, “If Somebody Told You.”
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Our second lady in question (or “sister of mystery”) is the legendary “Miss Rhythm,” Ruth Brown. Throughout the 1950s Ahmet Ertegun’s Atlantic Records was known as “the house that Ruth built” due to Ruth Brown’s succession of R&B hits: from 1949 to 1955, she had sixteen Top 10 records, five of which were number one. Born Ruth Alston Weston on January 12, 1928, in Portsmouth, Virginia, Brown first sang with her father in a church choir but soon left home and was managed by nightclub owner—and sister to famous bandleader “Cab”—Blanche Calloway (Bernstein, 2006). Later in life, after much struggle with both love and money, Ruth would become an activist for musicians’ rights and royalties and helped create the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. After suffering from a stroke and heart attack, Ruth Brown died on November 17th 2006 in Las Vegas suburb, Henderson, Nevada. She was 78.
Released as a single in 1959, here’s Ruth Brown with “I Don’t Know.” Just listen to with what skill she can alternate between a deeply sonorous voice to a desperate squeak that seems so fragile, so brittle, that you wonder how she’ll ever make it through the next syllable, let alone the rest of the song.
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To find out more about Ruth Brown you could check out her autobiography:
Bernstein, A. (2006, November 18). Ruth Brown, 78; R& B Singer Championed Musicians’ Rights. Washington Post. Retrieved January 29th, 2012 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/17/AR2006111701411.html
Jam, J. (1963). If Somebody Told You. [Recorded by Anna King] On Back To Soul [CD] Smash Records. (1963). Shout Records. (2006)
Santiago, N. (1973). Two Sisters Of Mystery. [Recorded by Mandrill] On Just Outside Of Town. [CD]. Polydor. (1973). Collectables. (1998)
Stevenson, B. & Benton, B. (1959). I Don’t Know. [Recorded by Ruth Brown] On Taking Care Of Business. [CD] Atlantic. (1959). Jasmine Music. (2011)
Whitmore. (2007). Anna King. Amoeblog. Retrieved January 29th, 2012 from http://www.amoeba.com/blog/2007/08/the-thing-of-a-thing-of-a-thing-/anna-king.html
Last week was a sad one for music. Not only were there the deaths of Etta James and Johnny Otis, but also I just found out that on January 16th the great songwriter and saxophonist Jimmy Castor died of cardiac arrest in a hospital in Henderson, Nev. He was 71 years old. James Walter Castor was born Jan. 23, 1940, in New York City and grew up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. Castor began his career in doo-wop and replaced childhood friend Frankie Lymon as lead singer of The Teenagers (McArdle, 2012).
His music developed to encompass a wide range of styles: from doo-wop to Latin jazz to funk to disco. Castor’s wit and way with an infectious groove has caused his music to have been heavily sampled by numerous hip-hop artists including Eric B. and Rakim, The Ultramagnetic MCs, N.W.A., Kanye West, 2 Live Crew, and The Beastie Boys.
—Find out why for yourself—
Off of his 1968 solo debut, Hey Leroy (althoughI believe it was first issued as the B-side to the 1966 single “Hey Leroy, Your Mama’s Callin’ You”) Here’s the feel-good Latin groove of “Ham Hocks Español.”
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Saxophone – Jimmy Castor
Bass – Paul Martinez
Congas – Martin Charles, Richard Landrum
Drums – Reginald Barnes
Guitar – Hillard Gibson
Piano – Ken Mills
Like it? Buy it.
I might be mistaken, but I believe “Ham Hocks Español” was used as the musical template for “A Gun On His Hip And A Rose On His Chest” by the humorously creative side project formed in 2008 by Devendra Banhart and Gregory Rogove (of Priestbird and Tarantula A.D.) under the moniker of Megapuss. To my ears it seems that they merely squeezed it dry of the Latin grease and fuzzed it up for a surf sound. Regardless, Megapuss certainly shares Castor’s sense of fun, and these two songs will always walk hand-in-hand in my head.
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Like it? Buy it.
Well, I could not end this post without featuring one of Jimmy Castor’s best-known works, the hilarious “Troglodyte (Cave Man)” which he and his group—The Jimmy Castor Bunch—put out on 1972’s It’s Just Begun. This song particularly resonates with me as I was once an employee of The American Museum of Natural History and would hear this constantly in my head while standing in the Hall of Human Origins. Watch the video below: featuring a caveman that has just gotta find a woman, and does when he encounters Bertha Butt of the Butt sisters.
JIMMY CASTOR; R.I.P.
Banhart, D. & Rogove, G. (2008). A Gun On His Hip And A Rose On His Chest [recorded by Megapuss] On Surfing [CD] Vapor Records. (2008)
Castor, J. (1966). Ham Hocks Español. [recorded by Jimmy Castor] On Hey Leroy. [Vinyl]. Smash Records. (1968)
McArdle, T. (2012, January 19th.). Jimmy Castor dead at 71. The Washington Post. Retrieved January 26, 2012 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/jimmy-castor-dead-at-71-70s-songs-became-popular-among-sampling-hip-hop-artists/2012/01/19/gIQAbbkCBQ_story.html
The Jimmy Castor Bunch (1972) (Creators). Ghoulardi (Poster) (2006, July 25). Jimmy Castor Bunch – Troglodyte [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlRXQEA0yj0
As the History Channel attempts to convince me every evening through their persistent programming featuring repetitive interpretations of both Nostradamus and the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar—we only have a little less than a year left. Now, I’d prefer to think of December 21, 2012 not so much as the end of the world, but, if anything, the end of the world as we know it. However, I admit my optimistic view of the apocalypse has certainly been colored by being so immersed at a young age into the “hypersigil” that is Grant Morrison’s comic book series, The Invisibles.
With all this in mind, I present to you—archiving much of what we have heard thus far, and then some—a mixtape processed and sequenced for your consumption and best utilized for an automobile stroll or on a Sunday afternoon when cleaning house:
Babylon Bye Bye by A Mouthful Of Pennies (Bobby Calero)
Cover art by Max Ernst “Europe After the Rain II”
Layout and design by Keri Kroboth-Calero
1) “Story” & (Can I Ride) If I’ve Got My Ticket Lord – Bob Dylan feat. Regina Havis (live in Toronto 4/20/80)
2) Staggolee – Pacific Gas & Electric (’70)
3) Stranger In My Own Home Town – Elvis Presley (Demo 7/24/70)
4) Little Baby – Howlin’ Wolf (5/61)
5) Babylon Fading – Jim Morrison (3/69)
6) Gimme Shelter – Cal Tjader (’71)
7) Mr. Guy Fawkes – The Dave Miller Set (’69)
8) Compared to What – Sweetwater (’70)
9) Horrorscope – Ralph Lundsten And The Andromeda All Stars (’79)
10) Running – Baby Huey and the Babysitters (’70)
11) Love In The Asylum (excerpt) – Dylan Thomas (’52)
12) Last Kind Words – Geeshie Wiley (’30)
13) Railroad Blues – Sam McGee (’34)
14) Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday – William Bell (’67)
15) When She Is Gone – Ken Boothe (Cojie Mix) (’73/’07)
16) The Projectionist – The Cinematic Orchestra (’03)
17) Village Soul – Lennie Hibbert (Cojie Mix) (’69/’07)
18) Amen, Brother [break] – G. C.” Coleman (’69)
19) Bag A Boo (Don’t Brag, Don’t Boast) – Clancy Eccles (’69)
20) No Sunshine In A Storm – The Sensational Prodigal Sons (’76)
21) Masked and Anonymous Instrumental Theme – Bob Dylan (’03)
22) Thank You Oh Lord – Jim Morrison (3/69)
Come and get it!:
If you download it, the playlist is listed under the “Lyrics.”
I just stepped outside to have my good-morning-cigarette-with-coffee to find that it is now snowing here in NY. Looking up at the level, bleached-slate sky, today’s song popped into my head. It could be this was already swimming around in there because of my recent post of Ken Boothe’s 1973 rock-steady rendition of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Perhaps this too could be considered a “cover” of the Withers’ classic, but it is also so much more than that. Taking Withers’ original as a jump-off, The Prodigal Sons deliver solid-rock gospel with a rhythm section that trudges on through the darkness; a darkness that they are urging you to know will pass with a persistent spirit. What stands out for me on this track are the emphatic lead vocal by Johnnie Holmes and the odd organ that twitches around the melody (I believe by Cority Quarles), which sounds like a precursor to RZA’s instantly captivating yet always peculiar production technique.
On Newark, New Jersey’s Richburg Records label, and off their 1976 Fred McGriff produced album of the same name—here’s The Sensational PRODIGAL SONS with “No Sunshine In A Storm.”
To those who don’t have to shovel–enjoy the snow; and to those that do–I’m sure It’ll melt soon.
Withers, B. (1971), & Prodigal Sons. (1975). No Sunshine In A Storm. [recorded by Prodigal Sons] On No Sunshine In A Storm. [Vinyl] Richburg. (1976)
Unfortunately, I’ve just learned of the passing of the incredible “Miss Peaches,” Etta James. Just five days shy of her birthday, Etta died this morning due to complications from leukemia at the age of 73. James had been diagnosed with leukemia in March 2010 (The Daily Mirror, 2011). Born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles to a mother with only 14 years of age, Etta was discovered and given her stage name by bandleader Johnny Otis (who, sadly passed away three days ago). With a clever twist, Otis simply reversed her first name from Jamesetta to Etta James.
Signing with Chess Records in 1960, Etta recorded the song most popularly associated with her, the stunning ballad “At Last,” in 1961. Although considered one of the all-time-great singers of R&B ballads, before saying farewell I’d like to celebrate her with a bit of gritty merriment. Recorded in 1966 for the Chess imprint, Cadet Records, here’s Etta James’ duet with childhood-friend and inexplicably underappreciated, pint-sized red-hot mama, Sugar Pie DeSanto: “In The Basement.”
Like it? Buy it.
Born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton, on October 16, 1935, in Brooklyn, New York to a Filipino father and an African-American mother, “Peliya,” (as her parents called her) was raised in San Francisco from the age of 4 (NPR, 2010). Sugar Pie was likewise given her stage name by Johnny Otis (I guess he just really had a knack for it). Known for using “cuss words that hadn’t even been invented yet” (Williamson, 2008), as well as incorporating acrobatic back-flips and dance-steps on stage, Sugar Pie DeSanto never let her 4’11” frame hinder her razor-sharp delivery. As she belts out in her sassy blues number “Use What You Got”: “if you know how to use what you got it don’t matter about your size.”
While trading lines, both James and DeSanto deliver such an abundance of sugar and spice to this soul-club, hand-clapper track that this basement seems to be hosting the best time there ever was to be had; a party where anything goes, and no one will ever know:
Oh, now tell me where can you party, child, all night long?
In the basement, down in the basement, yeah.
Oh where can you go when your money gets low?
In the basement, down in the basement.
And if a storm is taking place, you can jam and still be safe
In the basement, down in the basement, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Not to be upstaged by anyone, here’s Etta James’ heartbreaking “All I Could Do Was Cry.” Released as a single in 1960 and featured on her debut album At Last!, a year later, “All I Could Do Was Cry” apparently was inspired by the real life ramshackle love-quadrangle involving Etta James, her ex Harvey Fuqua, and songwriters Billy Davis and Gwen Gordy. The anguish is palpable on this one.
———————–———————(Click To Listen)
Like it? Buy it.
Well, here’s to you Etta! I’m sure you’re having a good time right now in the basement of heaven.
The Daily Mirror. (2012, January 20). Etta James dead: blues singer loses battle with leukaemia aged 73. The Daily Mirror. Retrieved January 20th, 2012 from http://www.mirror.co.uk/celebs/news/2012/01/20/etta-james-dead-blues-singer-loses-battle-with-leukaemia-aged-73-115875-23709593/
Davis, B., Gordy, B., & Gordy, G. (1960). All I Could Do Was Cry [recorded by Etta James] On At Last! [CD] Argo Records. (1961)
Davis, Minor, & Smith. (1966). In the Basement (Part 1) [recorded by Etta James & Sugar Pie DeSanto] On In the Basement (Part 1) Single [Vinyl] Cadet. (1966)
Ward, E. (2010). Sugar Pie DeSanto: After 50 Years, ‘Go Going’ Strong. NPR. Retrieved January 20th, 2012 from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128845529
Williamson, N. (2008). The Rough Guide To The Best Music You’ve Never Heard. New York: Penguin.
Today I bring you some sound advice from Clancy Eccles, care of his 1969 Ska number “Bag A Boo (Don’t Brag, Don’t Boast).” Born December 9th 1940, in Dean Pen in the parish of St. Mary, Jamaica, Clancy moved to Kingston in 1959 where his musical career began to take off. Soon, he added “concert promoter” and “record producer” to his resume, and was instrumental in the musical shift from rocksteady to reggae.
Political by nature, Eccles supported the democratic socialist Michael Manley’s People’s National Party (PNP) during Jamaica’s 1972 prime ministerial elections by organizing a “Bandwagon” tour featuring musicians such as Bob Marley & the Wailers, Dennis Brown, Max Romeo, Delroy Wilson, and Inner Circle (The New York Times, 2005). Manley, on the platform of “Better Must Come,” went on to defeat incumbent Prime Minister Hugh Shearer. Manley remained in office until 1980, during an era blighted by escalating political violence, and was reelected to this position in 1989.
On June 30th of 2005, Clancy Eccles died at the age of 64 from complications of a heart attack in a Spanish Town hospital. Here’s what Bob Dylan (2008) had to say regarding Mr. Eccles: “What I like about him is that his music has both religious and political overtones. It’s religion and politics with a good bassline.”
So guys & girls, remember the value of humility, or, as Abraham Lincoln put it: “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself” (Think Exist, 2011).
——————————————————(Click To Listen)
Like it? Buy it.
Dylan, B. (2008). Music that matters to him. In Artist’s Choice-Bob Dylan: Music That Matters To Him (p. 6) [CD liner notes]. Sony BMG for Starbucks
Eccles, C. (1969). Bag A Boo (Don’t Brag, Don’t Boast) [recorded by Clancy Eccles]. On Fatty Fatty: 1967-1970 [CD] Sanctuary Trojan. (2003)
The New York Times. (2005, July 2). Clancy Eccles Dies at 64; Produced Reggae Hits. The New York Times. Retrieved January 19th, 2012 from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/02/arts/music/02eccles.html
Think Exist. (2011). Abraham Lincoln Quotes. ThinkExist.com. Retrieved January 19th, 2012 from http://thinkexist.com/quotation/what_kills_a_skunk_is_the_publicity_it_gives/220847.html
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!
Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes (1935)
Nation as a Promise
This weekend I honor the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who more than most would have understood the weight of the words above. He knew that our Nation is a Promise—a promise that we each make to ourselves, and to our community—a promise of a Shining City upon a Hill. However, as Jesus Christ said as he gave his Sermon on the Mount, “a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (King James Version, Matthew 5:14). Martin Luther King, Jr. understood that not only was it our duty to judge our world, but that in turn it was our burden to be judged.
Our modern view of King’s August 28, 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech has had a tendency to reduce his words to merely a pictorial report of utopia. Yet, when King called for integration, he was speaking of our responsibility to our fellow man, and that true equality means that we all labor together to fulfill the promise of our nation, a promise that we have inherited, and a promise that we renew with each day we continue to build our homes here. King’s dream was not merely one of interracial hand-holding and pleasant afternoons together in the sun, but one where “[…] we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day” (Walenta, 2010). As Greil Marcus (2006) writes in “The Shape of Things To Come,” King’s most celebrated speech was one that “[…] judges the nation, and calls on each member to judge it in turn. The speech calls on each citizen to weigh the nation’s promises against their betrayal […]” (Marcus, p.34).
A Model of Christian Charity
President Ronald Reagan was fond of invoking the image of a “shining city” to promulgate a supposed moral superiority and an ideological slant on American exceptionalism, as well as to suggest that our nation could serve as guardian angel and warden for the world. Ultimately, his words were an expression of optimism. They did not take into account the age-old question of “who watches the watchmen?” Nevertheless, as conveyed in the 1630 sermon by Puritan and Massachusetts Bay Colony founder Governor John Winthrop—while aboard the Arbella, which sailed from the Isle of Wight to Salem, Mass.—this status as a City upon a Hill is one to be considered more of a threat than a blessing:
“The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely
with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to
withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a
by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to
speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake. We
shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause
their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out
of the good land whither we are going” (Religious Freedom, 2001).
Citizen King in the Great World House
The Computerized Plans of Destruction
As a citizen of the world, King not only appreciated the necessity for community as a prerequisite for peace on earth, but understood that community—regardless of one’s view or relation to it—is by its very nature inescapable; existence is nothing if not a multitude of threads and ligaments, by which each living thing is bound to another and all. Beyond this, King knew the obligation that comes with community. On June 14th, 1965 Dr. King gave a commencement address at Oberlin College in Ohio. Entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” the speech was more of a challenge to the graduating class than just a mere attaboy pat on the back and words of congratulations:
“All I’m saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together;
all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable
network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
[…] All that I’ve said is that we must work for peace, for racial
justice, for economic justice, and for brotherhood the world over.
We have inherited a big house, a great world house in which we
have to live together—black and white, Easterners and Westerners,
Gentiles and Jews, Protestants and Catholics, Moslem and Hindu.
If we all learn to do this we, in a real sense, will remain awake
through a great revolution (Oberlin College Archives, 2009).
As a true patriot, King not only loved our country and its inherent promise, but also was willing to descry that there is a disease within our nation, and that it was our responsibility as a people to deliver a cure. He knew that it little mattered where in fact Plymouth Rock landed. Regardless of semantics and pedigree, in the words of Woody Guthrie (1940), “This land is your land, this land is my land.” Again, as a patriot, King did not necessarily view the malady as an innate element to our nations principle architecture of government, Democracy, but rather the result of a promise perverted by those in power that seek personal gain through the influence of money and violence. Furthermore, I believed he viewed our nation’s malaise and inequity as a matter of depraved, cruel, arrogant, and often merely imbecilic value systems growing viral within our culture; a culture becoming a gluttonous creature in blind pursuit of comfort and dollars, obsessed with the distractions of torture and cartoons on the television. If one wonders what is wrong with this world—why these wrongs are prevalent—one need only to take a look at his world; to understand the product, one need only inspect the factory.
Despite his “I Have A Dream” speech remaining what he is mainly remembered for, I find King’s “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” to have endured as one of his most pertinent. On April 4, 1967 (exactly one year prior to his assassination) at Riverside Church in New York City, Dr. King delivered these words:
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the
fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.
On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on
life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we
must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed
so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed
as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is
more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice
which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring
contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will
look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West
investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America,
only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment
of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance
with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.”
The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others
and nothing to learn from them is not just. (A More Perfect Union, 2011).
A Beautiful Symphony of Brotherhood.
Essentially, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message remains one of Hope and Compassion, however, I believe there was a bit more fire & brimstone to his sermons than people care to remember. King knew that Time remains ambivalent to the aspirations of man. King knew that progress is not inevitable, but requires the vigilant struggle and toil of a conscientious community. King knew that with this community we could one day create “a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” King knew that without this community we are surely damned; our names will remain a stain on history, a curse upon all our offspring’s lips, and a curse upon the lips of God itself.
—The World is a better place for having had this man in it—The World can be a better place for having had this man in it—
Here is a YouTube post with the audio for Dr. King’s speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Beneath that I have pasted several of what I feel are critical passages from his speech, particularly in the context of our modern world.
“The only change came from America, as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.
“So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.
“What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?
“We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing—in the crushing of the nation’s only non-Communist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.
“Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon, the only solid—solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.” The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.
“Perhaps a more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front, that strangely anonymous group we call “VC” or “communists?” What must they think of the United States of America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem, which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South? What do they think of our condoning the violence, which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the North” as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.
“These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
“Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.
“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality…and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala—Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.
“And so, such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.
“In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years, we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.
“It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice, which produces beggars needs restructuring.
“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
“This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.
“These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions.
“It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes-hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”
“A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
“This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing—embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door, which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate—ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: ‘Let us love one another, for love is God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.’ ‘If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.’ Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.
“We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says:
“‘Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.’
“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.
“We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action.
“If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
“And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when ‘justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream’” (A More Perfect Union, 2011).
OK, now that I got that off my chest—
Here are a few tracks in tribute of MLK.
First up is perhaps my favorite Public Enemy song, 1991’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona.” Chuck D spits incisive line after incisive line at both the legislature and citizens of Arizona State after their refusal to observe a holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To give a brief history, Sen. John McCain (Republican of Arizona) voted against the creation of the holiday to honor King, and later defended Arizona Republican Governor Evan Mecham, who in 1987 rescinded a former Democratic governor’s establishment of the holiday. As a result, Arizona lost an estimated $300 million in cancellations of concerts, conventions and the 1993 Super Bowl (Hardigg, 1993).
Arizona State eventually relented to observe the holiday. Now, Arizona has gone on to note that in fact they are the only state that actually voted to recognize the holiday, unlike other states, which simply accepted the federal mandate. To me, however, that sounds like mere revision and spin, and an attempt to distract the issue with State’s Rights. One need only look at recent laws that permit the police force to demand your “papers,” to get a fair sense of Arizona’s collective conscious.
The video for this song was received in scandal due to graphic re-enactments of the civil rights movement and King’s 1968 murder interspersed with scenes of Public Enemy members leading an armed insurrection, which culminates with a series of political assassinations.
The heavy-metal-funk groove prominently featured throughout “By the Time I Get to Arizona” is a sample of the Bed-Stuy funk group that was formed in 1968 by three Panamanian born brothers: Mandrill. The sampled song, “Two Sisters Of Mystery” off of their 1973 album Just Outside Of Town has more in common with Led Zeppelin and Stone Temple Pilots than hip-hop, which goes to show just how eclectic P.E. could be.
However, the sample that I find particularly inventive occurs as the break-down when Chuck D grits his teeth and obstinately declares that he’s got twenty-five days to get to Arizona. To complement D’s message and delivery, the music is swallowed whole in a rhythmic swamp of menacing bass/drums and disturbing shrieks. These sounds bring to mind a perturbed vision of a playground massacre. Yet, with such precision, this snippet of looped sound is actually taken from a 1971 live concert by the Jackson 5 while performing a rendition of Isaac Hayes’ “Walk on By.” Recorded for the live/soundtrack album, Goin’ Back to Indiana, The screams are nothing but giddy girls cheering on the slow-step dance routine on stage. What a perfect subversion of sound.
Affirming the conclusion that most logical Americans arrive at, “[…] my money’s spent/on the goddamn rent/Neither party is mine/not the jackass or the elephant,” and directly stating the threatening consequences for cultural subjugation, “When the blind get a mind/ Better start fearing while we sing it;” off of Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black here’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona.”
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Like it? Buy it.
Up next is Baby Huey and the Babysitters with their 1970 epic rendition of the song that for many came to epitomize the sixties’ Civil Rights Movement: Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” I’ve already discussed much of Baby Huey’s brief history and the story behind their Curtis Mayfield produced record elsewhere, so, I’d rather consider the impetus behind the song itself. Written by Cooke while on tour in early 1963 and recorded on December 21 of that same year, “A Change Is Gonna Come” was released on 1964’s Ain’t That Good News, which was comprised of the first material that Cooke had recorded in the six months following the drowning death of his 18-month old son. Unfortunately, this album would also be his last released while alive, as Cooke was murdered under mysterious circumstances nine months after the album’s release; he was 33 years old. Ten days after his death on December 11, 1964, “A Change Is Gonna Come” was released as a single.
Sam Cooke was driven to write this song after being both inspired and filled with anxiety upon hearing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Cooke felt challenged by the song’s depth and understanding of America’s current climate in regards to race relations. Cooke is quoted as saying, “Jeez, a white boy writing a song like that?” (RollingStone, 2012).
Baby Huey and the Babysitters do Cooke’s song more than justice by swelling it into an epic psychedelic anthem that keeps the integrity of the definition of psychedelic intact: soul-manifesting, or soul-revealing. Punctured with scattergun horns, Baby Huey maneuvers the ballad through various temperaments while relating various humorous but personal asides. The most poignant of these being “There’s three kind of people in this world—There’s White People, there’s Black People, and then there’s My People.”
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Like it? Buy it.
Third, here’s the song that inspired Cooke to write “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Dylan, at the age of 20 in April 1962, introduced this song while onstage at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village, by stating: “This here ain’t no protest song or anything like that, ’cause I don’t write no protest songs” (RollingStone, 2012). He later said that he wrote the song in ten minutes, and anyone familiar with Dylan’s genius will believe him. The version I present was recorded live February 13th, 1974 in Los Angeles during Dylan and The Band’s joint tour. The fact that this tour was the first time Dylan had returned to the road since 1966 is evident in the unrestrained, muscular, and nearly irate delivery of this performance. Through the haze of Garth Hudson’s organ, Robbie Robertson provides some dynamic lead guitar that plays interesting games within the melody.
Like it? Buy it.
And to conclude, here are the final public words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The next day, at 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, he was murdered by a coward while standing on the 2nd floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. If these words do nothing to you then check your pulse.
The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Meridian, 1974. Print.
A More Perfect Union. (2011) Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.-April 4, 1967-Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence. A More Perfect Union. Retrieved January 13th, 2012 from http://4amoreperfectunion.blogspot.com/2011/01/rev-martin-luther-king-jr-april-4-1967.html
Cooke, S. A Change Is Going To Come [recorded by Baby Huey and The Babysitters] On The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend. [CD] Curtom. (1971) Water. (2006)
Dylan, B. (1962). Blowin’ in the Wind [recorded by Bob Dylan and The Band] On Before the Flood. [CD] Asylum. (1974) Sony Legacy. (2009)
Hughes, Langston. (1935). Let America Be America Again. Retrieved January 13th, 2012 from http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15609
Marcus, G. (2006) The Shape of Things To Come. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Oberlin College Archives. (2009). Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution. Oberlin College Archives. Retrieved January 13th, 2012 from http://www.oberlin.edu/external/EOG/BlackHistoryMonth/MLK/CommAddress.html
Public Enemy and Island Def Jam Music Group (1991) (Creators). PublicEnemyVEVO (Poster) (2010, Aug. 27). Public Enemy-By The Time I Get To Arizona [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrFOb_f7ubw
Ridenhour, Robertz, Gary G, Wiz, Depper, Mandrill, Santiago. (1991). By the Time I Get to Arizona [recorded by Public Enemy] On Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black [CD] Def Jam.
Religious Freedom Page. (2001). A Model of Christian Charity. Univerrsity of Virginia Library. Retrieved January 13th, 2012 from http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/sacred/charity.html
RollingStone (2011). The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. RollingStone. Retrieved January 14th, 2012 from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/the-500-greatest-songs-of-all-time-20110407/bob-dylan-blowin-in-the-wind-19691231
RollingStone (2011). The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. RollingStone. Retrieved January 14th, 2012 from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/the-500-greatest-songs-of-all-time-20110407/sam-cooke-a-change-is-gonna-come-19691231
Walenta, C. (Ed.). The I Have a Dream Speech by MLK. USConstitution.net. Retrieved January 13th, 2012 from http://www.usconstitution.net/dream.html
I’ve got two for you today:
First up is the uplifting “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday” by William Bell. Born July 16, 1939 in Memphis, Tennessee, Bell went on to be one of the principal architects of the Stax Records’ sound. His first hit for the label was 1961’s mournful, country tinged soul ballad “You Don’t Miss Your Water” (which was later covered in ’68 by the Gram Parsons incarnation of The Byrds for their country-rock masterpiece Sweetheart of the Rodeo). Due to a two-year stint in the Armed Forces Bell’s career was put on hold, and he did not release his first full-length album, The Soul of a Bell until 1967 (Bell, 2012). William Bell is also the man (along with Stax’s house organ player Booker T. Jones) behind “Born Under a Bad Sign” which was covered in ’68 as well, by British blues-rock supergroup Cream for their third and penultimate album, Wheels of Fire.
Released in 1967 and heavily featured in Miguel Sapochnik’s 2010 sci-fi action-thriller, Repo Men, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker; here’s
Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday
——————(Click To Listen)
Like it? Buy it.
Next up is some melancholy reggae to compliment the sodden, pewter sky outside my basement window. From the Denham Town area of Kingston, Jamaica, and off of his Black Gold & Green album, here’s “The Voice of Choice” Ken Boothe’s 1973 rock-steady rendition of the Bill Withers classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
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Like it? Buy it.
Interestingly enough, I recently read an interview with Bill Withers where he states that the inspiration behind this song was actually one of my favorite movies, the 1962 co-dependent, alcoholic-nightmare/love-story Days of Wine and Roses directed by Blake Edwards and starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. It is a must-see film.
Bell, W. (1967). Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday. [recorded by William Bell] On Very Best of William Bell. [CD] Stax. (2007)
Bell, W. (2012). William Bell—A Principal Architect Of The Stax/Volt Sound. William Bell. Retrieved January 12th, 2012 from http://www.williambell.com/WilliamBell/about/
Withers, B. (1971). Ain’t No Sunshine. [recorded by Ken Boothe] On Black Gold & Green. [Vinyl] Trojan Records. (1973)
Although recorded only four years after Geeshie Wiley’s “Last Kind Words,” Sam Mcgee’s “Railroad Blues” could be considered its polar opposite. While Geeshie’s narrator drifts with a dour posture across the American landscape, Sam’s seems to dart off in all directions, long-limbs jerking, in a frenetic search for thrills. Arriving at the same depot where Geeshie could only cry “some train don’t come, there’ll be some walkin’ done,” Sam perceives the potential for further pleasure:
“Went to the depot, looked up on the board
It read good times here, but better down the road.”
Sam Fleming McGee was born May 1st, 1894, just 20 miles south of Nashville in Williamson County, Tennessee. His brother and musical partner, Kirk, was born four years later on Nov. 4, 1898. While Kirk was instructed by their father to play the fiddle, Sam began on the banjo and switched to the guitar in his teens. A phenomenal “finger-picker,” Sam developed an alternating bass style, in which would play the melody on the treble strings with his fingers while playing rhythm with his thumb. This style is at the crux of what was to be called “Country-Blues,” incorporating the emotive flourish of a blues-rag into the typical “time-keeping” role guitars played within a string band (Bluegrass Messengers, n.d.).
Around 1923, Sam (who was working as a blacksmith) and Kirk joined up with Grand Ole Opry star “The Dixie Dewdrop” Uncle Dave Macon to form Uncle Dave Macon and His Fruit Jar Drinkers.
The McGee brothers were often billed as a comedic act—an act that was certainly developed with the help of Macon, who had been a seasoned performer on the Vaudeville circuit—and this facetious element is indeed evident in “Railroad Blues” with lines like:
“I met a little gypsy in a fortune telling place
She read my mind, then she slapped my face.”
When not playing, Sam worked as a farmer for the majority of his life and died at the age of 81 in a tractor accident on the family farm on August 28, 1975 (Brennan, n.d.). However, I can envision the Good-Time-Charlie character of “Railroad Blues” still traipsing from back roads to Main Street, singing dirty ditties to neighborhood kids and winking at the women. The song brings to mind Jack Kerouac’s depiction in On The Road of Neal Cassady as a man aware of all the sadness in this world, and yet still out in pursuit of whatever kicks he can get: A “HOLY GOOF” (Kerouac, p.176, 1957). As each sinuous note of “Railroad Blues” cascades by I can see the man: great big wanton grin on his face; an appetite in his belly; and perhaps a dollar or two in his pocket—perhaps not even a penny.
Recorded in Richmond, IN, August 15, 1934, here’s “Railroad Blues”
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Like it? Buy it.
And as an added bonus, recorded on the same day of August 15, 1934, with The McGee Brothers, is Uncle Dave Macon’s clawhammer banjo classic “Don’t Get Weary Children” (which Morgan O’Kane & band played a pretty raucous version of at my wedding).
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Like it? Buy it.
Bluegrass Messengers. (n.d.). Uncle Dave Macon. Bluegrass Messengers. Retrieved January 10, 2012 from http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/sam-and-kirk-mcgee.aspx
Brennan, S. (n.d.). Sam McGee Biography. Country Music Channel. Retrieved January 10, 2012 from http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/mcgee_sam/bio.jhtml
Kerouac, J. (1957). On the Road. London: Penguin Books (2000)
McGee, S. (1934). Railroad Blues. [recorded by Sam Mcgee] On Sam Mcgee 1926-1934. [CD] Document. (1999)
Macon, D. (1934). Don’t Get Weary Children. [recorded by Uncle Dave Macon & The Mcgee Brothers] On Go Long Mule. [CD] County Records. (1995)
Just a quick post to wish a happy birthday to David Bowie who turned 65 yesterday.
On July 2nd, upon wrapping up the European leg of “The Isolar II” world tour of 1978 in support of Low and Heroes, Bowie entered Tony Visconti’s Good Earth Studios in London to record this schizophrenic rendition of Bertolt Brecht’s and Kurt Weill’s “Alabama Song.” It was eventually released as a single nearly two years later on February 15th of 1980. This track features members of his stunning tour band of that time–as can be heard on Stage–which were able to reproduce the electronic blips and soundscapes of his Low material, particularly the guitar work of Carlos Alomar and King Crimson’s Adrian Belew.
Well, here’s to you Bowie—wishing you “whiskey”, “dollars”, and “girls” on your 65th!!!
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David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar
Adrian Belew: Guitar
Carlos Alomar: Guitar
Simon House: Violin
Sean Mayes: Piano
Roger Powell: Keyboards
George Murray: Bass
Dennis Davis: Drums
Like it? Buy it.
Brecht, B. & Weill, K. (1927). Alabama Song [recorded by David Bowie]. On The Singles Collection. [CD] EMI. (1993)