Saturday, August 21, 2010

Live at the BBQ

Next Saturday I'm playing a one-off party that should be really fun. It's a day-time, outdoor, all-vinyl affair at the Missouri Lounge in Berkeley.

I've never DJed at the Missouri before but I have enjoyed its unpretentious atmosphere and cheap drinks. This time out there will be free BBQ (fingers crossed, hoping for Phat Matt's) and the patio will be in effect, which is key to tapping the kind of outdoor summer thing we're going for. Oh, and it's free.

(EDIT: there will not be free BBQ. There will be BBQ but it will not be free, nor will it be from Phat Matt's, which you really ought to go to anyway because all other barbecue in Oakland is basically dried-out, gristly meat drowned in sauce. I haven't had the BBQ at Missouri Lounge, so I can't really offer an opinion either way except to say that you really should be eating at Phat Matt's if you have the opportunity because usually when I go in there they are way less busy than they ought to be and I worry that they'll go under and then I'll be left with nowhere to eat BBQ and maybe have to drive all the way out to the peninsula to try that place Serg says is good.)

There's a pretty cool flyer by Aebl Dee:

I wish he hadn't cropped the image of me such that I look like a hunchback, but I probably share some of the blame since I provided a crappy photo. Partygoers who attend the event will have the opportunity to see me demonstrate repeatedly and emphatically that I am not, in fact, a hunchback. (No offense, hunchbacked readers.)

The party was put together by my friend DJ Eddy Bauer, who I met towards the end of my time at KALX. He impressed me right off with his curiosity and excellent taste, and I soon learned that he's also remarkably nice. For a while, he was doing the favor of warming things up at Kitty's prior to my Hubba Rock party, but then he left to do a bunch of Friday parties at Oakland/Berkeley venues like the Missouri Lounge, Mua and Geisha. He also has a spiffy blog.

In addition to me and Eddy Bauer, the DJs include E Da Boss, who is maybe best-known as one half of the Timmion Records retro-soul duo Myron & E but is also a strong DJ and producer in his own right. The line-up is rounded out by a trio of specialist crews: boogie folks from the Sweater Funk party, Latin record fanatics from Club Unicornio and people from the hopefully self-explanatory Vintage Reggae Society.

I'm not 100% sure what sort of records I'll bring to play, although I think I might take the opportunity to go buckwild with some ancient disco raps. As annoying as I find the concept of all-vinyl parties, I do like the way they limit you to what you've carried with you-- if I only bring records I'm excited about, I'm only going to play records I'm excited about.

Here's one:

The Jimmy Castor Bunch: "Space Age" (12" version) (Atlantic, 1976)

"Space Age" has been a crate staple for me for a few years but I only recently snared the 12" version, which is longer. I've been tempted to mess with the file to adjust its wandering tempo but it's kind of perfect as it is.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

True love waits

I was listening through a stack of 45s that had been exiled to my closet for several years when I discovered this:

Tony Troutman: "I Truly Love You" (Gramophon, 197?)

Tony Troutman is a singer and songwriter who recorded for a number of Atlanta labels in the 1970s and 1980s. Contrary to what I've read in a few places, I don't think he had anything to do with Roger Troutman's funk outfit, Zapp, although he did cut a collectible modern soul record.

This track is straight-ahead soul and subtle, to boot-- I can see how its charm would elude a casual listen. After a bunch more listens I was hypnotized by its intimacy and warmth. It would sound really good alongside Eunice Collins's "At the Hotel", Sweet & Innocent's "Express Your Love" or a half-dozen Bobby Womack classics.

I apologize for the crappy quality of the vinyl rip. My copy of the 45 is actually pretty clean but the pressing is awful.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Smoking O.P.'s

I don't normally listen to other people's mixes much but lately I've been on a tear. Blame procrastination, curiosity and yardwork. I've heard some really good stuff in the process.

My friend DJ Anonymous just relaunched his excellent DJ's Delight blog with a redesign and a new mix, the fifth installment of his Disco (formerly "Disco to Get Drunk to") series. The set is very eclectic-- frosty Brit-funk rubs up against Salsoul oddities, cuts from people you wouldn't expect to see in the disco (hey, Carly Simon! Dave Grusin!) and excellent UK-only obscurities from ESG and Prince-- but it's beautifully mixed and flows nicely. Stream or download here.

Vancouver producer/DJ U-Tern's Summer '10 is an excellent and eclectic mix of things that shouldn't work together but do-- The-Dream, albino rock, Serge Gainsbourg, disco and house-- particularly the way U-Tern ties them together with summer-y sound effect washes and artful mixing. Stream here, download here.

I'm at best a casual listener to dance rock but I really enjoyed DJ Steve1der's An Introduction to the Twelves. I'd been curious about the Brazilian production duo since hearing their remix of the Black Kids' "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You" a couple years back. Since then, I tend to check for everything they remix but this still contains a lot of things that slipped by me. And it jams. Stream or download here.

I feel like I'm constantly recommending episodes of Chairman Mao's monthly Spine podcast, but I seem to mainly do it just before or after they disappear from Spine's website. His latest installment features the homie Dave Tompkins, who went uptown to Mao's house to play and talk about an hour of vocoder oddities that don't appear in the his Monk One-assisted vocoder mega-mix that I mentioned a few months ago. Mao handles the mixing; Dave deciphers and reciphers the mix here. Stream or download (while it's still available) here.

My friend O-Dub recently prepared a secular music-inspired gospel set for Aquarium Drunkard. It's not really a mix so much as a compilation, but his selections are great and incorporate a lot of funk and deep soul. Many of the songs had previously been featured on Soul-Sides over the past few months but are no longer available there, so you've got a second chance. Download here.

BBE is about to release a new compilation/mix from DJ Spinna that's a sequel to his endlessly smooth 2001 set, Strange Games and Things. On first listen, this one's a little choppier-- there are some great selections if not quite the same end-to-end groove. Still, I admire Spinna's ear for slightly below-the-radar gems and underplayed classics. Stream here.

People mourning Fat Beats should also check out Spinna's recent Underground Forever mix, which is an excellent survey of the kind of NYC 90s indie hip hop releases the Fat Beats store and distribution network were built on.

I might be late in noticing, but DJ Spinna also has a podcast. I grabbed a bunch of shows and all were good but I was especially glad for his Marvin Gaye mix, which put me on to a different version of one of my favorites:

Marvin Gaye: "Time to Get It Together" (Alternate version) (Motown, 1978/2007)

This version is from the 2007 double-disc reissue of Here, My Dear. It's rougher, looser and way longer but it grooves like crazy and it's cool to hear elements that got abandoned in the final version (which, come to think of it, is kind of sloppy and murky in its own right).

The chorus has to be about the most gangster lyric of its era: "blowing coke all up my nose/getting in and out my clothes/fooling 'round with midnight hoes/but that chapter of my life's closed." It was basically made to be remade by Three 6 Mafia, or at least their protégé Kingpin Skinny Pimp:

Kingpin Skinny Pimp: "Midnight Hoes" (Prophet Entertainment, 1996)

I kind of wish DJ Paul & Juicy J had taken more than the chorus but their track is pretty nice in its own right.

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Friday, August 6, 2010

The return of DST

I was over at the Spine Magazine site grabbing Chairman Mao's new boogie-funk podcast (you should, too!) and saw that there's a new song from De La Soul:

De La Soul: "The Return of DST" (?, 2010)

De La Soul has always excelled at the respectful nod to rap music's past and here they revive one of the illest old school rap routines , Grandmixer DST's synthesizer routine from the 1982 First Annual Black History Jam at Bronx River Center:

Grandmixer DST & the Infinity Rappers: Live at Bronx River Center, 1982 (Music of Life, 1992)

For 9 minutes, DST plays a vicious interpolation of the Exorcist theme-- probably the evilest synth part this side of Doug E. Fresh's "Phantasm" rip-- and riffs on some other songs (Gwen McCrae's "Funky Sensation", Junior's "Mama Used to Say", the theme from Close Encounters, etc.) while the Infinity Rappers hype the crowd and do some chants (King Floyd's "Feel Like Dynamite", what!).

DST also recorded a studio version of this for Celluloid, "The Grandmixer Cuts It Up". The distance between the live version and that is roughly the same as the gap between the live version of "Flash to the Beat" and the defanged studio take that Sugarhill released later. Still, I'm glad there's video of that version:

Grandmixer DST & the Infinity Rappers: "The Grandmixer Cuts It Up" (Celluloid, 1982)

Back to De La Soul for a second, they did a song last year for a video game, which is usually where rappers relegate material that's too uninspired even to serve as filler on their shitty commercial albums. Evidently not understanding this practice, De La made a really good song instead.


Thursday, August 5, 2010


This is one of the more obscure tracks in the Mizell Brothers mix I posted yesterday:

Margie Evans: "Waterfalls" (Buddah, 1974)

Margie Evans is a Los Angeles-based singer who was part of Johnny Otis's revue for many years. Her clavinet-heavy "Good Feeling" is a minor personal favorite.

Anyone want to take a crack at deciphering the lyric? I have no talent for Pig Latin.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

2 Busy Saying Yeah 21 - The Mizell Brothers

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Fonce & Larry Mizell are two of my favorite producers ever ever.

In fact, they almost transcend the category because on their signature records they contribute in so many ways -- songwriting, arranging, playing and singing -- that they elide the distinction between producer and artist.

However you want to characterize their role, they made music that's wonderful, completely original and instantly identifiable. Although they produced only two major pop hits, A Taste of Honey's "Boogie Oogie Oogie" and LTD's "Love Ballad", they crafted some of the most successful jazz albums of the 1970s and a body of work that continues to inspire producers in just about every stream of rap, soul and electronic music.

The two began began playing music in their teens, both as trumpeters and singers. After college, Larry got a job in aerospace, while Fonce went to L.A. to make it as a songwriter. He and college friend Freddie Perren landed jobs as staff songwriters at Motown and, working with Deke Richards and Berry Gordy as the Corporation, quickly scored a series of massive hits for the Jackson 5 ("ABC", "I Want You Back", "The Love You Save"). Larry finished a master's degree and moved west to join Fonce, finding work as a session keyboard player.

Fonce's first production after leaving Motown, Donald Byrd's 1973 LP Black Byrd, was a huge hit by jazz standards and became the blueprint for a run of albums the brothers produced for Byrd, Bobbi Humphrey, Johnny Hammond, Gary Bartz and others. All combine electric instrumentation, spacey synths and skittering rhythms with lush, tricky arrangements of soaring horns and the Mizell Brothers' harmony vocals, frequently augmented by strings, sound effects and ghostly whistling. Although like many of their jazz contemporaries, they drew on rock, soul and funk the Mizells took the influence in a different direction, lightening the rhythmic pulse, softening the edges and adding many layer upon layer of harmony and counterpoint. Remarkably, as rich as the arrangements are, they never sound stiff or fussy.

I got inspired to do this mix a few months ago when I heard DJ Platurn close out the radio show that precedes mine on All Day Play with a Bobbi Humphrey song; I think it was "Chicago Damn". There were a couple of guys in the room who make beats pretty seriously and they started flipping out over the record, talking about how easy it would be to turn it into a beat, etc. I was shocked that they weren't familiar with the record or with the Mizell Brothers generally and it got me thinking about how little known the Mizell Brothers are even though their influence is so pervasive. I thought it would be cool to make a mix that highlights some of their greatest songs.

I wrestled a little bit with what fell within the scope of the mix because it's not always clear what is or isn't a Mizell Brothers record. For example, on the soundtrack to Hell Up In Harlem, Fonce and Freddie Perren are credited as producers and writers, while Larry is only credited with playing synthesizer. "Airport Chase", from that album, ended up in the mix because it sounds like a Mizell Brothers track. Similarly, their outings with Bobbi Humphrey credit Larry Mizell and Chuck Davis as producers, rather than Fonce and Larry, but Fonce was prominently featured and the music sounds like the Mizells. (Total digression: does anybody know the story on Chuck Davis? The only non Mizell-related thing he did that I know of was that kinda great crossover 7" by Beloyd.) Other things were easier calls, like the Jackson 5 hits-- great as they are, they didn't involve Larry at all, so they were clearly out.

I tried to include songs from every major project they did but things kinda clumped up around my favorites. Without realizing it, I included all six tracks from Johnny Hammond's Gears LP and not one from Roger Glenn's Reachin. (Total digression #2: if you know me in the real world, ask me to tell you my Roger Glenn story sometime.) I probably should have included more from the Blackbyrds' first album, too. If I were to recommend five records produced by the Mizell Brothers, they'd be: Donald Byrd's Places and Spaces and Street Lady, Johnny Hammond's Gears, and Bobbi Humphrey's Blacks and Blues and Fancy Dancer.

The Mizells' music doesn't really lend itself to DJing-- the tempos fluctuate a lot, the arrangements are dense and the songs tend to be really long-- but I did my best with it. I tried to let some of my favorites breathe, while still trying to make room for as many songs as I could. The mixing isn't airtight but is pretty good considering I did it live or at least sort of live; early in June, I recorded a live version for All Day Play in which I played and talked about the songs. In this version, I took the original mix and replaced the talking portions with music and, in some cases, additional songs. (If you want to hear the talky version, it's here.)

1. Johnny Hammond - Tell Me What to Do
2. Donald Byrd - You and Music
3. L.T.D. - Love to the World
4. Margie Evans - Waterfalls
5. Donald Byrd - Lansana's Priestess
6. Johnny Hammond - Conquistadores Chocolatés
7. Gary Bartz - Music Is My Sanctuary
8. Johnny Hammond - Star Borne
9. Johnny Hammond - Fantasy
10. A Taste of Honey - World Spin
11. The Blackbyrds - Reggins
12. Rance Allen Group - Reason to Survive
13. Donald Byrd - Wind Parade
14. Bobbi Humphrey - New York Times
15. Bobbi Humphrey - Uno Esta
16. Bobbi Humphrey – Jasper Country Man
17. Donald Byrd – Change (Makes You Want to Hustle)
18. Johnny Hammond - Shifting Gears
19. Donald Byrd - (Fallin' Like) Dominoes
20. A Taste of Honey - Do It Good
21. Donald Byrd - Think Twice [Mizell Brothers 2005 Remix]
22. Gary Bartz - Gentle Smiles (Saxy) [DJ Day edit]
23. Donald Byrd - Places and Spaces
24. Bobbi Humphrey - Harlem River Drive
25. Marvin Gaye - Where Are We Going?
26. Bobbi Humphrey - Blacks and Blues
27. Johnny Hammond – Can’t We Smile
28. L.T.D. - Love Ballad
29. Donald Byrd - Stepping Into Tomorrow
30. Donald Byrd - Miss Kane
31. Brenda Lee Eager - When I'm With You
32. Bobbi Humphrey - Please Set Me at Ease
33. Bobbi Humphrey – My Little Girl
34. Donald Byrd - Slop Jar Blues
35. Donald Byrd - Black Byrd
36. Edwin Starr - Airport Chase
37. Bobbi Humphrey - Mestizo Eyes
38. Bobbi Humphrey - Fancy Dancer
39. Johnny Hammond – Lost on 23rd St.
40. Donald Byrd - Rock and Roll Again

Finally, I want to send a big shout to my friend Cosmo Baker, who has been talking about doing a Mizell Brothers mix for years and who I had to check with before I did this. Cosmo is a fantastic DJ and if he gets around to it, I'm sure his mix will be better than mine (especially since he has a secret weapon). Let's hope he does.

In the meantime, you might want to check out his latest mix, which is the penultimate installment in the Rub's mighty history of hip hop series. You can grab all 30 (!) of them here.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Al Goodman, R.I.P.

The soul singer Al Goodman passed away last week. For decades he was a member of the Moments, a trio renamed Ray, Goodman & Brown after it left Sylvia Robinson's grip. Goodman sang bass and was involved in writing, producing and arranging many of their hits.

The Moments are best known for classic sweet soul ballads like "Love On a Two-Way Street", but I've always had a fondness for their more groove-oriented songs and in particular the tracks they recorded in the style of their 1973 hit "Sexy Mama":

The Moments: "Sexy Mama" (Stang, 1973)

(Hint for vinyl buyers: the version of "Sexy Mama" on The Best of the Moments is much longer and better than the original LP version.)

After the success of that tune, the Moments cut a bunch of songs patterned on it: gently swaying mid-tempo tracks made up of little more than a sinuous bass line and the light tock of a primitive drum machine. Although none of them was a hit, all of the tracks got multiple releases, in some cases years apart. It makes sense-- although they all sound very similar to each other, none sounds much like anything else, so to this day they don't sound dated.

The Moments: "Ride Your Pony Girl" (Stang, 1974)

In Europe, this appeared on the Those Sexy Moments album. In the US, it came out as a single credited to Harry Ray and also appeared on a Stang cash-in LP entitled The O'Jays Meet the Moments.

The Moments: "The Next Time I See You" (Stang, 1974)

This originally appeared on Those Sexy Moments and, 8 years later, on a 7" credited to Harry Ray. I don't have a copy of either release, so I grabbed it from DJ Anonymous's excellent blog.

At about the same time, the song was also performed by label head Sylvia Robinson over the same backing track:

Sylvia: "The Next Time I See You" (Vibration, 1974)

Sylvia's version originally came out on a 7" single and then appeared on her self-titled 1976 LP. That record also features the very similar "Sweet Stuff", which was featured on DJ Anonymous's blog, too.

Finally, this is kind of far afield from the Moments and the "Sexy Mama"-style tunes, but it was co-written by Goodman and has been ruling my ears for the past few months:

First Class: "Filled With Desire" (All Platinum, 1976)

Soul songs don't get much more jubilant.

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