Interview with Kevin Toney of the Blackbyrds: SoulSchool behind the Scenes!

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  One of the more enriching relationships I have developed over the past decade or so is with Calvin Lincoln of SoulSchool television. I have been an interested viewer of the SoulSchool program , a local bay area music program, since it’s inception in the mid ’90s. It was during that time that my interest in genres such as soul, funk and jazz began to overtake my interest in most of the music being produced at the time. I began to take more interest in the vast storehouse of music my dad had accumulated. By the 1990s however, the visuals attached to music, to many music fans dismay, had become more important than the music itself in selling it.  The one thing I was craving, as I was digesting James Brown, George Clinton, Prince and Chaka Khan,  was to actually be able to SEE them do their respective “things.”

There were brief snippets of footage I’d see here and there, but when I talked to older people, they’d  definitley turn my brown eyes green with their stories of seeing great artists on Don Cornelius’ Soul Train, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and other shows of the time such as, The Midnight Special.

The problem at the time however, was the 1960s was viewed by the rock and roll establishment as the sacred time in rock history, and there was much more footage avaliable from that time. Add to that the fact that funk, soul, jazz-funk etc, were predominatley supported by black audiences and that made their video footage even lower release priorities.

But in the Bay Area in the late ’90s, we didn’t have to worry about that. We had Chuck Johnsons SoulBeat, a black local cable channel who’s production values we laughed at, but who also showed very valuable musical footage, and we also had Calvin Lincoln’s SoulSchool.

Calvin showed all kinds of footage of the legends of soul, funk, jazz, hip hop, etc. I recall first seeing Parliament Funkadelic footage on his show. Also, I remember seeing the powerful footage of James Brown’s 1967 concert at the Boston Gardens after Dr. Kings death on a friday night viewing of SoulSchool. My father used to tape his show, and I recall taping his show myself every friday night. I’d tape his show on TV and Rickey Vincent’s The History of Funk on local KPFA radio and really get a good feeling for the groove.

I’d seen Calvin around town once, at the old Lucky’s on High Street, but around 2004 or so I was introduced to him through our mutual friend, Ed Harris, proprieter of Funky Soul Stop Records, my favorite record shop on Jefferson St. in Oakland.

Calvin quickly became like a brother to me. I met him, and his fellow co hosts, Truck, Odis and Mashtan, and they took me in like I was family. Becoming friends with Cal gave me access to learn from his vast library of musical video footage, which he spent time and money procuring himself, simply for the love of it and with the intentions of preserving the art.  Through him I was introduced to footage of 1970s Soul Train, as well as footage from every Parliament Tour, from 1976-1984. All of this footage greatly expanded my understanding of the music and the times in which that music was created. Also, Calvin is one of the most intelligent, well spoken, and kind hearted people I’ve ever come across, a true role model, brother, and friend!

This past year, when I was struggling through some very hard times, it seems Calvin was always hitting me up to accompany him to interview various legendary musical figures. We got to interview The Lowrider Band, which features four original members of War, Greg Enrico, the original drummer of Sly & the Family Stone, or meeting Mike Hampton, “Kidd Funkadelic”, himself.

One of the most special ones that happened last year was interviewing Kevin Toney of the Blackbyrds. I remember when I first started seeing footage that Calvin had, one of the first bands I’d asked for was the Blackbyrds. Calvin responded with something like, “that’s the group I want the most to, but I can’t find anything from them.” There is a group of baby boomers who I’ve grown up under, born somewhere in the 1950s, for whom the Blackbyrds are almost the most representative musical group. They all looked up to the Blackbyrds for being college student-musicians, in the immediate years after the Civil Rights movement, at Howard University, one of the great HBCU’s. The Blackbyrds remind them more than any other group of the optimism, fun, and story of their young adulthood.

So of course, we were super excited when we’d heard that Kevin Toney and the Blackbryds were coming to Yoshi’s Oakland for their first concers in many years. We were able to meet with Mr. Toney before the show and we found him a very intelligent, sincere, and personable man, with a lot to say on many subjects. One of his primary projects now is a book he’s written, The Virtueous Man, which shows men how they can be more faithful in their relationships. He was very welcoming to us and he made us feel that what we were doing in documenting the music was just as important as what he was doing in performing it.

The Blackbyrds gave a great show that night, I’ve gotten to see many legendary acts and some hold up better than others. The bands I find the best are ususally those for who it was always all about the music anyway, rather than being about the image. The Blackbyrds played a tight funky set that included an homage to their founder, jazz great Donald Byrd, playing some of his tunes like, “(Fallin Like) Dominoes”, and “Change Makes You Wanna Hustle”, in concert with a full complement of Blackbyrds hits. They especially made me happy when they went into “Do It, Fluid”, which is the first song I ever heard from them, my dad playing it down in the garage, me tripping off, “Drugs are for the fool….”, as the lyrics went. It was totally fullfilling for a group you’ve been waiting a long time to see.

After the show we talked some more and I was even able to meet Ms. Domonique Toney, Kevin’s daughter, who sang lead, she gave the Bay Area much props, telling me, “I see why people like it up here, it’s so mellow and laid back.” Typical compliment people give the Bay (and Cali as a whole), but coming from a lady that pretty, I wasn’t mad!!!!

All in all it was a great experience I have to thank Mr. Toney and the Blackbyrds for, as well as my good brother Calvin.

Video of the event:

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2 Comments

Filed under Appreciation, FUNK, Music Matters, Oakland-Bay Area, Pictures

2 responses to “Interview with Kevin Toney of the Blackbyrds: SoulSchool behind the Scenes!

  1. That was a great piece, Hen. I really enjoyed it. I love how you’re writing gives the perspective of not only a journalist but that of a real fan. Lots of great information as well as entertaining.
    I’m looking forward to more great stuff.
    *salute*

    • Thank you very much for reading the peice and giving me feedback on it Ron! I really appreciate that, and yes, it is important for me to give a background to my interest in certain subjects as well as just “state the facts.” Some people might not have the same appreciation for the subject, or knowledge about it that I might have, so there is a need to set a basis for understanding my enthusiasm on the subject!

      Thank you for reading!

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