Friday, October 29, 2010

Giant fever

I posted this last year but it seemed like time to bring it back.

The Paid Attendance: "Be a Believer in Giant Fever" (Homerun 500, 1978)

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Can I borrow a dollar? Ooh you're a star now!

Next Wednesday I'm playing records at the Aloe Blacc show at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco. (Tickets here.)

Aloe Blacc is the L.A. singer and rapper who has a hit with the recession anthem "I Need a Dollar", which is the theme song to HBO's How to Make It in America and seems to crop up lots of other places. While I'm a little more partial to the less retro stuff he was doing a few years ago (like his work with Exile and this, which he did with the homie DJ Day), I'm happy to see the dude doing well. Also, I am always a fan of recession music.

Here's a great recession-themed single that's mostly escaped notice from funk collectors. I was turned on to it a couple of years ago by Mr. Finewine, who played it in a set I caught at his Botanica weekly.

Johnny "Guitar" Watson: "There's a Recession Going On" (Vulture, 1972)

This single was recorded during what seem like Johnny "Guitar" Watson's lost years. Watson had been a star on the rhythm & blues circuit since the 1950s, but his recording career hit a lull after his 1967 collaboration with Larry Williams-- between 1967 and his 1973 resurgence on Fantasy, the only other release I know of from Watson is a 1968 Fats Waller tribute album.

Gabriel Mekler's Vulture label was very short-lived and while it seems they had a minor hit with Frederick II a/k/a Nolan Porter's "Groovin' Out on Life", I don't think they did much with Watson's single. Ironically, I don't think there actually was a recession going on at the time this single was released-- it was around the time of Nixon's wage and price controls but a couple years before OPEC price shocks ended the U.S. post-war economic boom.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Don't take my shadow

For a while I've been meaning to put in a plug for the radio shows DJ Shadow has sporadically been posting over at his website.

Thus far they've been an eclectic bunch, including sets devoted to things like new heavy metal and goofy private press records about life on the job. My favorites have been the loner psych selection from Dante Carfagna (what it sounds like) and the brand new sweet soul set from Chicago soul guru Bob Abrahamian (so many scratchy lo-fi wonders). Shadow himself has also contributed a couple I've enjoyed, like his Korean psych/soul/funk set (funky, fuzzy Xmas classics and covers for days) and one of his collections of things he was listening to recently (as eclectic and good as you'd hope).

Each is about an hour long, has no track listing and unfortunately is not downloadable, so unless you're using the Shadow app you'll have to stick near a computer. Nonetheless, the ones I mention are worth the hassle and you also ought to check out his new single, "Def Surrounds Us" b/w "I've Been Trying".

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, October 21, 2010

2 Busy Saying Yeah - Ninety-Now: East Coast Indies Pt. 2

Subscribe: RSS iTunes Google Yahoo

This episode of 2 Busy Saying Yeah is the second in a series of mixes revisiting indie rap records from the 1990s. Like the previous installment, this one is limited to east coast releases (in this case, NY, Philly, NJ, Boston & D.C.) and it's still exclusively indie releases, although this one features some of the bigger and more obvious ones.

There are a bunch more to come after this volume. I haven't decided how long this series will run, but I plan to cut it before the quality starts to dip.

1. Outsidaz : Rain or Shine feat. Axe, Pacewon, Yah Yah & Young Zee
2. Kamakaze : On the Real RMX feat. Nas & Cormega
3. Cage : Agent Orange
4. N.Y. Confidential : Why
5. Black Moon : Reality (Killing Every...)
6. Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs : Acting
7. Sunz of Man : Intellectuals feat. Raekwon & U-God
8. The High & Mighty : Dirty Decibels feat Pharoahe Monch
9. J-Live : Braggin' Writes
10. Dutchmin : Get Your Swerve On
11. Team Demolition : Dirty Gusto
12. M.F. Doom : Dead Bent
13. Scott Lark Da Sensei : Natural Bliss
14. Shadez of Brooklyn : Change
15. Buckwild : Burn Me Slow feat. O.C.
16. X-Caliber : Le Miserables
17. S.O.P. : Styles
18. Rob O : World Premiere

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You should buy these records

I frequently wrestle with the ethics of posting mp3s for download on this blog, in particular how it affects all of the people who used to have an easier time making a living selling music-- not just artists, but also my friends who run or work at labels or record stores.

I make rules for the blog, like not posting links for things that are commercially available, not posting whole albums, etc. and hope that on balance what I post will spark curiosity and stir more people to support music they love.

On that note, I feel like it's time to introduce a new feature devoted to new releases I recommend buying. I don't really have the chops, time-management skills or inclination to be a music critic, so don't mistake this for that; I'll write about stuff when I feel like it, not necessarily well and not on a deadline. I also am really not interested in shilling for labels, etc., even when I like their music very much. (Several times in the past year, I've been serviced with things that I liked and wanted to put in a good word for but just felt creepy about it; please don't send me CDs.) Instead, it's just me saying, "Hey, support this stuff and hopefully there will be more like it".

Here are two new reissues I recommend to the fullest:

When the Numero Group included a track from Pastor T.L. Barrett's Like a Ship... (Without a Sail) on their recent Good God! Born Again Funk compilation, I was surprised they went with the title track. I mean, "Like a Ship" is pleasant, but to my ear there are few songs in soul, funk or gospel as powerful as "Nobody Knows".

I first heard the song on Nick the Record's Gospel Mix, which I've alluded to more than once and which I still listen to about as often as any mix. "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" is a great composition to begin with-- there's a reason, after all, that standards become standards-- but Barrett's version is amazing.

The arrangement and performances are perfect: the piano chords that drive it, the rhythm section that swings but never distracts, the way the song crests into a "Don't Knock My Love" vamp and most of all the vocals. Barrett's vocal strikes such a perfect balance between suffering and self-possession; he sounds wounded, but not lost. Then there's the interplay between his lone voice and the choir, so monumental, but also so human, so comforting.

Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth For Christ Choir: "Nobody Knows" (Mt. Zion Gospel Productions, 1971)

Light in the Attic has reissued the whole album, together with extras like a 7" and interviews with Pastor Barrett and the Chess sessioners who played on it. If nothing on the album is quite as good as "Nobody Knows", most are great and there's really only one track that doesn't hold up for me.


Lô Borges is best known for Clube Da Esquina, the 1972 double album that featured him, Milton Nascimento and other artists from their Minas Gerais music collective. That record yielded this among many gorgeous moments. The same year, Borges released a superb self-titled debut that was recently reissued on vinyl by 4 Men With Beards and CD by Water Music [1].

Borges packs 15 songs into barely 30 minutes and most songs are gone before you want them to be. He covers a lot of ground on the record-- folk, soul, rock, funk, jazz, balladry-- sometimes all within the same song, but not in the zany, kitschy, kitchen-sink way of, say, Os Mutantes. He deploys rich arrangements in support of, rather than in place of, his songs. I was driving around town and fishing for something to compare the album to and weirdly the comparison I kept coming back to was Big Star, which Borges's album resembles in its surprising juxtapositions of prettiness and grit.

Again, the album is very varied so this particular track isn't representative of much, but more than once I've put it on repeat and been mesmerized for long stretches:

Lô Borges: "Toda Essa Agua" (EMI, 1972)

[1] Hey Water Music guys, if you happen to read this: you never paid me for those liner notes I wrote for you a long-ass time ago. I'm not gonna hold my breath but it would be really cool if you did. OK, thanks.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, October 18, 2010

And the beat goes on and on and on

Saturday I happened to rip three covers of Sonny & Cher's "And the Beat Goes On" and then, THE VERY NEXT DAY, Mad Men closes out a season with their "I Got You Babe".

This is too much of a coincidence to let pass. This is exactly the sort of deeply irrelevant coincidence this blog exists to document.

I think I first heard both songs in the 1980s while watching a syndicated episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in which the two made cameos. Back then, even before Bono was a Republican congressman representing Orange County and well before Cher was patient zero of the auto-tune epidemic, I knew that Sonny & Cher were deeply uncool. Still, I couldn't resist "And the Beat Goes On" for its loping, jazzy bassline and wildly casual scatted chorus.

Los Yorsy's: "El Ballet Hippie"(Musart, 196?)

I'm not sure what I like more about this version, the Spanish title or that the lyrics remain in English but are still mostly incomprehensible. This version sounds uncannily like Willis Jackson's version of "Jive Samba", which is not easily linkable but which also sounds uncannily like Jackson's "Nuther'n Like Thuther'n", which is.

Rocky Roberts & the Airedales: "The Beat Goes On" (Durium, 1967)

Rocky Roberts & the Airedales was a group of African-Americans who recorded in Italy, mostly as Wess & the Airedales. This is taken from their Sabato Sera, which features a mix of originals and covers in Italian and English. Among the other covers are good versions of "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and "Hey Joe" (not that there is a bad version of the latter).

Kenny Smith: "And the Beat Goes On" (Music Minus One, 196?)

Kenny Smith was a bassist who recorded with Horace Silver among others. He cut two two-record instructional sets for the Music Minus One label, The Beat Goes On and For Bassists Only. Both feature Smith leading small groups through solid versions of current jazz and rock fare like Silver's "Song for My Father" and "Psychedelic Sally", Mongo Santamaria's "Para Ti" and Mel Tormé's "Comin' Home Baby" (not that there is a bad version of the latter). Smith's take on "And the Beat Goes On" features vocals from a very young Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Animated, like a cartoon

In 1970, CBS and Hanna-Barbera made an animated Harlem Globetrotters TV series. The show paired cartoon versions of Meadowlark Lemon, Curly, Geese and the other Globetrotters with a bus-driving granny and Dribbles, their dog mascot.

A wikipedia entry describes the show's premise as this: each week the team would "travel somewhere and typically got involved in a local conflict that leads to one of the characters proposing a basketball game to settle the issue. To ensure the Globetrotters' defeat, the villains rig the contest to ensure that their opponents lose. However before the second half of the contest, the team always finds a way to even the odds, become all but invincible, and win the game."

The show also generated a soundtrack album which has an amazing fold-out cover but is otherwise very missable except for this:

The Globetrotters: "House Party" (Kirshner, 1970)

I've got a mile-wide soft spot for this kind of studied goofiness and the house party theme is a nice kicker. The song was co-written by J.R. Bailey (who made this! and this!) and the team that Bailey wrote this classic with. Apparently none of the Globetrotters was involved except for Meadowlark Lemon, who had enough of a jones for music that he eventually got a solo deal with Casablanca late in the decade.

Speaking of Casablanca, I recently read Larry Harris's And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records. Harris is someone who broke into the music industry doing radio promotions for Buddah, which was then run by his cousin, Neil Bogart. When Bogart left to found Casablanca, Harris joined him as a founder and, eventually, executive vice president. The book contains some great anecdotes about seventies record label decadence as well as some unintentional hilarity (crediting Bogart with "damn near single-handedly creating disco", rationalizing some truly awful signings), but its greatest strength is probably its description of the nuts and bolts of breaking records and acts in that era. Worth a read.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rodger Clayton, R.I.P.

Over the weekend the DJ and party promoter Rodger Clayton passed away. Clayton was the general of Uncle Jam's Army, a crew that defined the sound of Los Angeles rap music before N.W.A. and at its early 1980s peak regularly packed Los Angeles venues like the Convention Center and the Sports Arena.

Clayton began DJing house parties as a teenager in South Central L.A. In 1978 he hooked up with partner Gid Martin and began throwing parties at community halls. Taking the name "Uncle Jam's Army", Clayton and Martin built a huge following for a series of events that cycled through venues across L.A., drawing thousands. Within a few years they were the dominant DJ crew in L.A., with a roster that included future legends like Egyptian Lover, Bobcat, Joe Cooley & DJ Pooh.

When the crew made the leap to wax in 1984, it scored huge regional hits that solidified the emerging sound of L.A. rap: fast, electronic bass music that was heavily inspired by Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force but which leavened Bam's afro-futurism with liberal doses of freaky California hedonism.

Clayton and his crew cut three singles under the Uncle Jamm's Army name (the extra "m" was likely to dissuade legal action from Funkadelic). The first and best of these is "Dial-A-Freak":

Uncle Jamms Army: "Dial-A-Freak" (Freak Beat, 1994)

The song is credited to Clayton, billed as Mr. Prinze, and Greg Broussard a/k/a Egyptian Lover and truth be told it sounds more like the Egyptian Lover records of the time than either of the other singles by Uncle Jamms Army. Regardless, it's a near-perfect distillation of influences like Sexual Harrassment's "I Need a Freak", Grandmaster Flash's "Scorpio", Midnight Star's "Freak-A-Zoid" and Hashim's "Al-Naafiysh".

Although Toddy Tee and Ice-T scored some hits with a more street-oriented style, this remained the dominant sound of L.A. rap until at least 1987, when Eazy E's "Boyz-N-the-Hood" changed the landscape.

Even after Uncle Jams-style electro rap faded from popularity, Clayton's influence was felt through the hits and classics produced by his protégés, like LL Cool J's "I'm Bad" and "I Need Love", Rodney O & Joe Cooley's "Everlasting Bass", Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day", King Tee's "Played Like a Piano", etc.

Clayton and crew also probably deserve some credit for L.A. having the first all-rap radio station in America, KDAY, starting in 1985. The sheer size and visibility of the audience Uncle Jam's Army built must have been instrumental in convincing somebody that the format could be commercially viable.

West Coast Pioneers has a reprint of a cool 1983 LA Times article about Clayton and Uncle Jamm's Army. There were also tantalizing links for audio interviews with Clayton and with Dwayne Simon of the L.A. Posse here, but I couldn't get them to work.

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 11, 2010

2 Busy Saying Yeah - Ninety-Now: East Coast Indie Raps Pt. 1

Back in August I read about Fat Beats closing its last retail stores.

I hadn't shopped at Fat Beats in almost 10 years and not just because it meant dodging Percee P. Still, when I read it was closing I started to feel some nostalgia for the era and style of records the store was built on. Over the past month or so I've been pulling together a lot of these records for a series of mixes/radio shows devoted to the best of these.

For most of the 1990s, I followed east coast rap about as closely as any not-yet-internet-savvy person living in Cali could. I listened to every record I could find, read everything that I could and prized any dub of radio shows by Stretch & Bobbito, Mayhem, Riz, Eclipse, etc. that came my way. During that era, I made it to New York about once a year and would spend every free minute combing stores that might have rap records I couldn't get in the Bay, like Bobbito's Footwork, Rock & Soul, Beat Street in Brooklyn, etc.

Eclipse at the NYC Fat Beats store

Once Fat Beats opened, it was easily the best of them. The store changed the landscape for rap music in New York, creating not just an outlet but also a focal point for a certain style of underground rap. Or maybe several styles of underground rap, since the scene seemed to embrace a range of non-commercial NYC-centric styles, from arty downtown rappers to outer-borough knockoffs of Nas & the Wu-Tang Clan.

I'm still figuring out the parameters of this series, but I've got some basic rules for what records are going in to the mixes:

1. No major label releases. This is a little squishy but I've excluded subsidiaries and labels that had major-label distribution (e.g., Loud, Tommy Boy, Payday, Wild Pitch, etc.). Thus far I've also excluded some of the larger indies, like Relativity and Priority, which were kind of in a different league as far as resources, promotion and distribution went (and which ended up major-label subsidiaries anyway). I'm on the fence, but may include some indies that got picked up for re-release.

2. Only one release per artist.

3. Nothing released after 1999. This is a very arbitrary cut-off, but it's kinda around when I lost interest in east coast indies. I feel like they got very stagnant and insular around that time, two qualities that don't usually make for great music.

4. (For the moment) No records from the west coast. There's no shortage of great east coast-style indie rap records from the west coast, but I feel like that scene deserves its own mix/show. As far as I know, other parts of the country didn't produce nearly as many, so I feel okay about grouping east coast-style indies from Atlanta, Houston, Kansas City or Ohio in with those from NYC, NJ, Philly and Boston. Canadian indies were a tougher call but there aren't quite enough ones I like to do an all-Canada mix, though I really did consider it.

Anyhow, here's the first installment. More to come soon.

Subscribe: RSS iTunes Google Yahoo

1. BBO Enterprises : Dayz Lik This
2. Boostin’ Kev : That Be Boostin’
3. Mixed Elements : Divine Styles
4. 2 Face : Hey Hey Hey
5. Basement Khemists : Petrified
6. Mr. Complex : Why Don't ‘Cha feat. Pharaohe Monch
7. Scienz of Life : Powers of Nine Ether (Distorted Views of Life)
8. Mood Swingaz : The Blessin’ (Boom Bodya Da)
9. Q Ball & Curt Cazal : My Kinda Move
10. Dynasty : Wildcat
11. Al Tariq : Spectacular
12. Mike Zoot : Service
13. Us : N****z
14. Screwball : F.A.Y.B.A.N.
15. Rahsheed : feat. Ill Advised & Pauly Yams
16. Smoothe Da Hustler & Trigger Tha Gambler : Smith Brothers
17. N.O.T.S. Click : In This Game
18. Lord Digga : My Flows Is Tight
19. Maestro Fresh Wes : Fine Tune Da Mic feat. Showbiz
20. Bumpy Knuckles : A Part of My Life
21. Meaner : Real Rap Song
22. Mic Geronimo : Men v. Many feat. O.C. & Royal Flush

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A-Alike, be alike, see alike

I've been gearing up to do a series of radio shows/mixes devoted to east coast indie rap records from the mid-to-late 1990s. Being the obsessive I am, that's meant dozens of hours combing through old playlists, youtube videos and boxes in storage for records I'd forgotten about and then hours and hours more recording old 12"s.

There have been some nice moments of rediscovery, but also plenty of things I'm shocked that I once liked enough to have kept all these years.

Here's a record that for whatever reason never left my head-- some portion of the music box sample and chorus rings in my head about once a week.

A-Alikes: "Walk With a Bop" (Bomb, 1998)


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

2 Busy Saying Yeah - "Live" at Sweaterfunk

Subscribe: RSS iTunes Google Yahoo

The other night I guested at Sweaterfunk, the boogie party at SF's spectacularly unpretentious Li Po Lounge.

Each Sunday night for the past two years, Jon Blunck and 12 other disciples have lugged their sound system down into Li Po's basement to play boogie, modern soul and two-step records. They only play original vinyl, much of it rare, which sounds snobby and esoteric but their enthusiasm is disarming. And contagious-- they've built a big following and attracted guests like Dam Funk, U-Tern, Daz-I-Kue and Kon & Amir, all of whom have dropped sets simply for the love of playing great music on a great system at a great party.

I'd been wanting to check it out for a long time because I've known a couple of the main DJs since forever and my homie Eddy Bauer always raves about the party. Unfortunately I always reserve Sunday nights for my lady so I'd never actually gotten to go to the party before. After meeting most of the rest of the Sweaterfunk crew back in August at Eddy Bauer's party and getting a really warm reception from them, I was geeked to play their party.

A couple of people asked me to record my set and I brought a recorder but, like a dumb-ass, I forgot the line-in cord from the mixer so I ended up with a recording of muffled tunes augmented by record nerd conversation. Fortunately I kept the records I played in order so later when I went home I was able to record myself playing the records how I played them at the party. It's all the way live and part of the way sloppy-- Jon was very generous in plying me with Tsing Tao and shots of some Chinese liquor that tasted like Fernet would taste if Fernet was made out of pork armpits rather than roots and herbs.

I played lots of favorites but not too many rarities. Because my interest in the boogie era really only took off after I mostly stopped buying records, my crates are nowhere near as deep as those of, say, Disco Tom Noble, who played right after I did. (Hooo-boy does he have some great records; you can buy some of his excellent reissues here or old records here.) I included a couple things on the Solar Records label in honor of Dick Griffey, who passed away last week. Here are the songs:

1. Cameo : Please You
2. The Jimmy Castor Bunch : Space Age
3. Jesse James : Love Vibes
4. Sabata : Man for My Lady
5. Tony Cook & the Party People : On the Floor (Rock-It)
6. The Limit : She's So Divine
7. Dynasty : Check It Out
8. Vin Zee : Funky Bebop
9. Ellis Hall, Jr. : Back It Up (Try It Again)
10. Starshine : All I Need Is You
11. One on One : Body Music
12. Bernard Wright : Master Rocker
13. Dayton : The Sound of Music
14. APB - All Points Bulletin : Rock Your Spirit
15. The Escorts : Make Me Over
16. Soul Mind & Body : I Took Your Love (To Be True)
17. Shalamar : There It Is
18. Oliver Cheatham : Just to Be With You
19. The Gap Band : I Owe It to Myself
20. Aurra : Like I Like It (Timmy Regisford remix)
21. Mtume : Hips

Labels: , , , , ,