24May

Let the Music Play

With so much racial unrest in our sad little world, I thought I would view race from a musical standpoint. It’s obvious when you look at the history of modern music that race played a major role in music as we know it now.

In 1946, King records began producing what was called race music, music produced primarily by and for African-Americans. People who had been brought to this country already full of rhythm and blues and gospel were forced into servitude by white land barons, but the whip could not silence their music. They found hope in their music, and these African people began to mingle with Native Americans, who themselves were already enslaved and close to being exterminated, clinging to their own music, beliefs, and hope for freedom. As these different musical traditions flowed into and around each other, a beautifully unique musical world was created. All of these cultural traditions formed the roots of jazz, American folk, gospel, and the blues. As I mentioned last week on his death, the music of blues great B.B. King was once labeled race music.

Fast-forward to 1954 and Blackboard Jungle, a film about a teacher at an inner-city school that featured Bill Haley and the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" in the opening credits. The film helped boost the popularity of rock and roll among teens, but for the rest of the population, it raised fears that rock music was related to juvenile delinquency. In January 1957, the U.S. congress considered legislation that would require song lyrics to be screened by a review committee before they could be sold because of a controversy over so-called obscene lyrics.

As recently as February 2015, Cleveland's Fox 8 news anchor Kristi Capel used the word jigaboo during a live broadcast to describe Lady Gaga’s music, saying "It's really hard to hear her voice with all that jigaboo music, whatever you want to call it...jigaboo." Apparently, Capel is one of the newsies with hair and no brains. I have some hope she didn't know that jigaboo was an old racial slur against African-Americans, a term I heard growing up in the south.  What I don’t get is why she used a word she probably didn't understand. Hair got in her eyes and affected her brain, I guess, as she made this statement. 

We all have our own tastes in music, and thank god, or we might all be listening to nothing but spoons ensembles. I don’t like rap, especially the violent, gang, damn-you type of rap, so I don’t listen to it and hope it doesn’t encourage violence. But rap music is an example of free speech, whether I like it or not, and it is music to some ears. Anyone who tries to stop rap music is as much a racist as the first Americans who brought slaves to the colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, or the people of 1946 who established race music as a genre or the congress of 1957. I still believe that music can save our mortal souls.

There are more thoughts on all this and other topics on the shores of Rambling Harbor. Play the podcast and join me there.

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17May

P.P. Arnold and Lisa Fischer: Musical Greats, Yes!

A friend got me to thinking the other day, an accomplishment most of my friends try to avoid. This friend once said, “Give Dan a subject, and he will think it to death.” Another good friend from radio once introduced me, saying “Here is Dan Sanders. Give him a subject, and he’ll give you 20 minutes whether he knows anything about it or not.” I never believed those last eight words.

So I was thinking about the hidden talent and connections in music we forget or never even know about. For example, my friend told me the hit song “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” a song I like a lot, was written by Cat Stevens, and  he gave it to the great soul singer P.P. Arnold. P.P. Arnold recorded it in 1967 and had a hit. It’s also interesting to note she was a member of the Ikettes, the troupe that provided vocal and dance accompaniment for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. In 1973, “The First Cut Is the Deepest” was an international hit for Keith Hampshire, a well-known British singer who between July 1966 and mid-August 1967 was also a DJ for the offshore pirate radio station Radio Caroline. The Rod Stewart version of the song, which I and most of the world knows and loves, was not recorded until 1977.

Here’s another name for you: Lisa Fischer. Any Rolling Stones fan has heard her a thousand times but might not know the name. Since 1989, she has toured with The Rolling Stones and is a popular background singer with Mick. Check her out on later versions of “Gimme Shelter” (Merry Clayton recorded the first version) and “Honky-Tonk Woman.” She is also featured in a great documentary about background singers called 20 Feet from Stardom.

Just as I was finishing up this blog, I got the news that on this day, May 15, B.B. King died at age 89, the same day astronomers discovered a rare Quasar Quartet. More than ever, I want that job at WHEA, Heaven’s Radio, where there are a multitude of great quartets. Can you imagine hearing “Goooooooood morning, universes, galaxies, and stars of all ages! We’ve got some B.B. King, Ben E. King, Percy Sledge, and James Brown to kick off your sunrise today!”                            

All of this got me into particularly ponderous pondering (god, don’t you love alliteration?).  I discovered not only something about a song I love but also about the first person to record it and the second and then more about them. I learned P.P. Arnold was one of the Ikettes and Keith Hampshire was a radio pirate on Radio Caroline, and I kept going. The history of one song, “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” I found fascinating as one thing led to another, a result of song sleuthing, a term I made up to describe getting down to the deepest links. My interest in music details is why I became a DJ, or at least one of the reasons.

A few more song-sleuthing moments and other thoughts are on the shores of Rambling Harbor. Drop anchor and join me there.

 

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10May

Hey, Is That U2?

I lived and worked in New York City for over 10 years, at WPAC (now WALK), one of my first radio jobs.  When I first moved there with my dad, he told me you could stand naked at noon in Times Square and crow like a rooster, and no one would notice. I never tested that theory and to my knowledge neither did my dad, but I believe it’s true.

If you’re from New York City, you make it very clear that’s where you’re from. It’s not unusual to hear someone say “I’m from New York” and quickly add “the city, not the state”!  New York City is truly the home of the strange, the bizarre, the scene, the never before seen, and many times, the wish you had not seen. Now imagine you’re standing on a subway platform and you hear what sounds like a group of pretty decent street performers playing some U2 tunes. Not bad, you think, and then you notice that guy in the blue cowboy hat looks a lot like Bono and the dude in the sock hat could be the twin of “The Edge.” Almost instantly, what to your wondering eyes and ears should appear but the wham-bam holy “Angel of Harlem” knowledge that you are actually standing next to the real U2 and they are doing an impromptu concert in the bowels of the New York subway system. That’s pretty cool.

Of course, this hoopla was ahead of U2’s May 8 performance on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show. Remember it was just back in November Bono had that bike accident in Central Park and later released a statement that his recovery had been much more difficult than he expected, saying “it is not clear that I will ever play guitar again.” He said he would “miss fingering the frets of my green Irish Falcon or my (RED) Gretsch. Just for the pleasure, aside from writing tunes. Does the Edge, or Jimmy Page, or any guitarist you know have a titanium elbow, as I do now? I'm all elbows.” But he recovered, and chances are good he will be fingering those frets for a long time to come.

There are certain songs that were just made to be sung, in the shower alone or in a group (not necessarily a group shower), songs that you might not even know all the words to but know just enough to sing loud and proud, songs like "Louie Louie.” Jack Ely of the Kingsmen and the voice behind the most well-known version of that song died April 28 at 71. And who has not, at one time or another under the blistering heat of lunacy and arousal, broken into “You Sexy Thing”? Errol Brown, the lead singer of Hot Chocolate and the voice of "You Sexy Thing" and "Every 1's a Winner," died Wednesday, April 6. He was 71.  

There’s more on music, mayhem, and madness on the banks of Rambling Harbor. Come on ashore.

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