Saturday, June 27, 2009

More MJ

Two revelatory MJ videos spotted over at Soulstrut:

Jackson 5: "Can I See You in the Morning" (Motown, 1970)

I had forgotten how great this song is; it's just about the pinnacle of psychedelic soul. I had also forgotten how low budget the J5 cartoon show was; half the pleasure in watching it is catching all the corners they cut with the bare-bones backgrounds, the endlessly repeating frames and so on.

Jackson 5: "Walk On By/The Love You Save" (Motown, 1971)

So that's where that beat comes from. It had been bugging me for years.

And just because:

Caetano Veloso: "Nega Maluca/Billie Jean/Eleanor Rigby" (1986)

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Down with the king

Yesterday when I read that Michael Jackson had passed away, I felt like someone had punched me in the chest. I was disoriented and I couldn't breathe right.

I've been listening to a lot of his music in the last 24 hours-- ripping old favorites and classics that weren't in my mp3 library, checking out post-Thriller albums I'd glossed over and trying to wrap my head around his musical legacy.

I haven't had time to pull together any sort of overarching retrospective, although I'll do so on my radio show this coming Wednesday. Here are a handful of favorites that aren't necessarily obscure but also maybe not the first ones people think of.

Jackson 5: "2-4-6-8" (Motown, 1970)

Michael Jackson: "Maria" (Motown, 1972)

Michael Jackson: "Ain't No Sunshine" (Motown, 1972)

It's amazing how well MJ handled adult material. He might have had the voice of a twelve year-old but he really put across a greater depth of feeling than you'd expect a kid his age could.

The Jacksons: "Let Me Show You the Way to Go" (Epic, 1976)

I never listened to much of MJ's post-Thriller output when it was new. When I heard it, I was usually turned off by what I felt were poor production or song choices-- just way too many rock crossover attempts and songs about fame or children. He did cut a lot of great songs, though. Here are some:

Michael Jackson: "Can't Let Her Get Away" (Sony, 1991)

Michael Jackson: "They Don't Care About Us" (Sony, 1995)

Michael Jackson: "Butterflies" (Sony, 2001)

"Butterflies" was written and originally recorded by perennial dues-payer Marsha Ambrosius of Floetry, etc. She's featured on background vocals.

Michael Jackson: "Heaven Can Wait" (Sony, 2001)

I wish it had.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

And you can new jack swing...

I spent much of the weekend bumping Teddy Riley: King of Swing, a new mix by the homie Superix.

People don't really talk about Teddy Riley anymore but his accomplishments are crazy. I mean, the guy single-handedly invented a whole style of R&B by the age of 20 and then went on to have one of the craziest runs any producer ever did--I don't think there's anyone who racked up as many rap and R&B hits between 1988 and 1996.

Superix does a great job of selecting from, sequencing and mixing Riley's catalog. There are songs I wish were on there (offhand, Kool Moe Dee's "Dumb Dick" and "Go See the Doctor", Guy's "Piece of My Love", Joe's "Stutter" and especially Blackstreet's "Don't Leave Me") but the omissions are more than offset by some of the things I'd forgotten or was glad to discover.

You can download the whole mix for free as either a single track or broken into discrete tracks.

You can also get more from Superix over at his site or at Southern Hospitality, the blog he runs with homie Rob Breezy and Davey Boy Smith. Their devotion to regional American rap is impressive and at times embarrassing--it's a humbling experience when dudes who live 6,000 miles away regularly school me about rappers who live a few miles away.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Inner Drive revisited

A couple of months ago I posted a single by the Inner Drive entitled “Party Man”. The 45 had long been a favorite but given the scant credits I had never been able to figure out much about its origin except its city of release.

Last week I was contacted by one of the musicians who made the record, “Chicago” Carl Snyder. Carl’s son had discovered my post and Carl seemed really happy to learn that people were enjoying his music decades later. We exchanged several emails and he told me about the Inner Drive’s personnel and shared great stories about his experiences recording “Party Man” with R&B legend Andre Williams, leading a racially mixed band, and his decades-long friendship with the Inner Drive’s co-leader, the singer, songwriter and bassist Dan Noland.

At the time I met Dan I had worked with a couple of bands in Providence, R.I., and with a group in Chicago, the Chicago TNT’s. It was l969, and I had just done my first recording session, with the TNT’s, playing guitar on a couple of tunes by a singing group called The Turks, “You Turn Me On” and “Generation Gap”. This was for Daran Records, a small label on the Southside.

The Turks: "You Turn Me On" (Daran, 1969)

The Turks: "Generation Gap" (Daran, 1969)

I’m on both sides, but just playing rhythm, and there’s only a few spots where you can actually hear what I’m doing. The lead (tremolo) guitar is by Willie Weems, who wrote the songs and produced the session.

I had a friend at the time, Phil Bolton, who was doing some graduate work at the University of Chicago and also pitching for an otherwise all-black semipro baseball team. Phil told me that his catcher wrote songs. So that was how I met Dan Noland. The two of us went into the studio right away and cut a couple of Danny’s songs; I played piano, bass and guitar, and another friend of mine played drums.

The first record by Danny and myself was “We Can Regain our Love” b/w “Consider My Love”. We put it out ourselves on the “Land” label (I figured if Danny’s name was No-land, we would give him a “land”). That record went nowhere.

Then we formed a little singing group, with Danny, his sister and two other guys; I was playing guitar, trying to sound like
[Miracles guitarist] Marv Tarplin.

We took part in a few Southside revues. Then I moved out to San Francisco for a year and a half. I moved back to Chicago in 1972 and immediately got together with Danny. Pretty soon we had a four-piece group; we did a few private parties, a few “society dances” downtown (at the Drake Hotel and the Conrad Hilton), and for several months we were playing four or five nights a week at a pizza joint on Rush Street, sometimes backing up a fire dancer (“Lady Kita”)
[Ed: wowzers!].

Around then we went in the studio and cut four more of Dan’s songs for a demo. I was going to take it to the bigger record companies, but I got a call from the engineer at the recording studio saying that a local producer had heard the stuff and could get airplay. That’s how [Zodiac Records owner] Ric Williams got into the picture.

We re-recorded two of the songs from the demo—”Party Man” and “Smell the Funk”. Dan (erroneously credited as “Dan Roland” on the labels) wrote both songs; he is doing all the vocals and is playing the bass. Dave Wollert is on keyboards and Tom Gierman is playing the drums. The trumpet solo is by Art Hoyle, best known for his work with the Sun Ra Arkestra. There was a second trumpeter whose name I can’t remember, and two tenor saxophonists: Vins Johnson, who went on to work with us for a while, and Bobby Lewis. I am playing the guitars.

Andre Williams

Ric felt the songs needed to be jazzed up a little more, so he brought in [R&B legend] Andre Williams to help with the production. Andre was responsible for the horn parts and the use of the synthesizer. Working with him was an incredible experience—he was funny, and outrageous. He didn’t know music in a technical sense, but he always seemed to hear what wasn’t there (the missing part of the rhythm), and he would find a way to get it into the arrangement.

The Inner Drive: "Party Man" (Zodiac, 1974)

The Inner Drive: "Smell the Funk" (Zodiac, 1974)

Although the “Party Man” single reached #14 on the charts at Chicago’s WVON, Zodiac’s Williams said the record wasn’t selling and Zodiac failed to make a deal with a bigger company. The Inner Drive and Zodiac parted ways.

At around this time, the Inner Drive were hired to provide the rhythm for a minor Andre Williams-produced hit by a vocal group called the Velvet Hammer—1974’s “I’m the Rock”. Mysteriously, some additional material that the Inner Drive recorded with Andre Williams was later released on an album credited to the Velvet Hammer, 1977’s Call Me on Soozi Records. According to Carl, the album was only available through the mail and Danny actually spent a few bucks and sent away for a copy. The album was released with at least two different covers on Soozi and in 2001 was reissued in slightly different form on Soul-Tay-Shus as Andre Williams’s Whip Your Booty. Many of the tracks the Inner Drive had recorded appeared with new vocals and, in some case, new lyrics. Carl is philosophical about the experience.

Unfortunately, it was all pretty normal for the music biz at that time. It was like the Wild West; you had to watch your butt. People just got so used to it, they never thought about what they were doing. And I was going to go on in the music biz no matter what. Danny was more hurt than I was by what happened; music is music, but song lyrics are something else, especially when they come from the heart or relate to one’s personal experience. I’m talking mostly about the song “Happy,” a very beautiful piece that Dan wrote about his wife, but which ended up on the Velvet Hammer album.

After the recordings, the Inner Drive continued to perform in the Chicago area for a year or two with shifting personnel.

When we started doing gigs, we were two white guys and two blacks; at the time we cut “Party Man” we were one black guy and three whites; eventually we were five black guys and two whites, Dave Wollert and myself. But seven pieces was kind of unwieldy, and we were all feeling a little trapped in the band; so around September of 1975 we broke up. I made a permanent switch to keyboards and went on to play the blues—four years with Junior Wells, three with Son Seals, almost five with Jimmy Johnson (plus gigs with Bo Diddley, Little Milton, Otis Rush and many others).

In 1989 my youngest child came along, and I was going to have to take care of her. No more traveling. So I started booking my own band—and I reached back and got Dan Noland to help with the singing. As “Carl Snyder and the Boogie Woogie Flu, featuring Dan Noland” we became regulars at Buddy Guy’s Legends, and did a lot of gigs around Chicago as well as in the Lake Geneva, Wisconsin area. As before, we were a mixed band, with varying personnel; I had to be careful not to put either my black or my white musicians in jeopardy. And of course some or the suburban club owners would be reluctant to hire black musicians, while some of the blues clubs in the city wouldn’t want to hire white guys (it was mostly the white club owners who had these attitudes).

In 1996 I moved to Pennsylvania; for a while I kept booking the guys back in Chicago, traveling back and forth. I started my own label, Lost World Music. Our first release was a CD by Dan Noland, “Birdnest on the Ground,” which contains another version of “Party Man.” Both of Dan’s Lost World CDs got nice reviews in Living Blues Magazine. As for me, I currently live in Allentown, Pa. I work with a blues band in Philadelphia, and another in the New York/Jersey shore area. I do jazz gigs with a very fine guitarist, Frank DiBussolo; I also do a couple of radio shows, one on a college station, the other on a public station; and I write a column for a local blues publication. I still have an insatiable appetite for jazz, blues and R&B, and at 65, I feel truly blessed to have been able to live the life that I have.

Now we find “Party Man” on the Internet! Dan, who is 61, works as a copy editor for an ad agency in Chicago; I called him just a little while ago to tell him about this, and it totally made his day! We are both amazed that some of these things we did 40 years ago are connecting with people today and getting a little attention; truly, His eye is on the sparrow!

My thanks to Carl for being so generous in sharing his recollections. Interacting with him and learning the Inner Drive's story has been one of the most rewarding experiences I've had since starting this blog!

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Every curl in the world

DaVizionaryz: "Wettest" (2009)

Hi-C: "Leave My Curl Alone" (Skanless, 1991)

Poison Clan: "Jeri Curl" (Effect, 1990)

The Poison Clan's debut album is so slept on it's ridiculous. It's hilarious and great end-to-end. Go buy the entire thing.

Clyde Carson: "Soul Glo" feat. Sho-Sleezy (Aviator, 2005)

This track is taken from Taj Mahal's excellent 2005 mixtape, which was mostly made up of songs by Clyde Carson and other members of the Team. They were really killing it at that time but afterward it seemed like they sorta got side-tracked by various things. Some of the recent Clyde Carson solo stuff has been promising.

Honorable mention #1; they freak a famous example of curl-clowning for the beat, but the curl content in the verses is dismally low:

PRGz: "Soul Glo" feat. Mata, Mali Boi, Lil' St. Lois & Money Addict (Mad Decent, 2008)

Honorable mention #2, because notwithstanding the title and the fact that this group had the best band name of all time, they don't rap much about curls:

Deryl With the Curl & DJ Curl Activator: "Curl Activate" (Jam-Kru, 1988)


Friday, June 19, 2009

Lost & found

For years, the Gap Band's "Outstanding" was a crate staple for me in a lot of settings. Not because it's a great song (although it is), but because it's such a perfect warm-up record: neither too fast nor too slow, familiar but not ubiquitous and disliked by virtually no one.

Because it's such a useful record, I inevitably got sick of "Outstanding" and retired it. Luckily, there's this:

The Gap Band: "I Found My Baby" (Dance Mix) (Total Experience, 1985)

"I Found My Baby" came out about two years after "Outstanding" and was a hit, although much less successful-- maybe it was just too obvious a retread. I don't really hear anybody play it these days. The 12" version I've posted is a much cleaner mix than the album version and has lots of useful breaks for mixing.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Roses and revolvers

I just got back from a week in the woods and turned on the computer to see lots of internettery about the Jay-Z buzz single, "D.O.A.". I'm a huge fan of Jay-Z, No I.D. (I like his Black Album a lot better than Jay-Z's) and shitting on tired trends, but think the song kind of sucks. Even so, I'm glad to see a lot of the gushing directed at No I.D. and the song he sampled, Janko Nilovic's "In the Space".

Janko Nilovic is a Montenegro-born and France-based pianist and composer who has cut dozens of LPs for sound library labels like MP 2000, Telemusic and others. As a genre, sound library music can get pretty dull, particularly when consumed in album form. This isn't surprising-- sound library music is basically designed to fade into background and usually packaged more for TV/ad producers than listeners, e.g., songs get broken up into 30-second cues.

Nilovic is one of the few sound library composers I've heard who usually stays interesting for the length of a song and the only one who's led me to sit still for a whole album, his 1974 masterpiece Rhythmes Contemporains. Rhythmes Contemporains is a big band jazz album that's funky, brassy, groovy and spooky all at once-- it reminds me a lot of both David Axelrod and Mike Westbrook. There are only 6 songs and these stretch way past the time and genre conventions of typical library tracks. It was reissued in 2000 on the Cosmic Sounds label and I recommend it highly.

At about the same time there were also a bunch of other reissues that contained many of the funk and rock-oriented songs he cut in his series of "Impressions" LPs for MP 2000 (Pop Impressions, Supra Pop Impressions, Psyc Impressions, Soul Impressions, Jazz Impressions, etc.). I don't think any of the reissues featured "In the Space", which No I.D. sampled from Psyc Impressions, or this track from Supra Pop Impressions, which is one of my favorites:

Janko Nilovic: "Roses and Revolvers" (MP 2000, 1973)

In its apocalyptic, doomy glory, the track feels like a funked-out twist on this, which is my second-favorite piece of film music ever:

Ennio Morricone: "As a Judgment" (RCA, 1969)

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