Category Archives: Appreciation

Plain old giving props to energies that energize me

“The Band is his Orchestra/The Sounds of Delight”- A Riquespeaks feature series on Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones turned 84 earlier this month, in a year that has already seen the passing of such musical luminaries as Junie Morrison, Clyde Stubblefield, Al Jarreau and most recently, the cornerstone of Rock & Roll Chuck Berry. It is going on eleven years since we lost James Brown, who Quincy was three months older than, and we just lost Prince last year. It is now seven years since we lost the man who’s career is seen as Quincy’s foremost musical legacy, Michael Jackson. A few years ago, Quincy’s close friend and Montreaux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobbs passed on in a skiing accident. But Quincy remains a unifying figure, one who speaks to the history of African American music in the 20th century and how that tradition can be carried on into the future and recognized as a key contribution to world heritage.

One very interesting project that Q had on the table during the administration of President Barack Obama was to get music and American culture in general cabinet level recognition in the United States. He was not able to get that project accomplished, though I’m sure he gave it his all. Although that particular project was not successful, Quincy has used his own music and albums as a platform toward that very same aim.

Respect and appreciation for Quincy Jones was something I grew up with, outside of his production for Michael Jackson. His work with M.J might have been the main reason I was checking for this “old jazz guy” as a kid, but the facts are, my father was a serious Quincy Jones fan. I grew up hearing albums like “Quincy Jones plays the Hip Hits”, and “The Quintessence.” My father highly respected Q as somebody who took the mantle from the great jazz composers and arrangers such as Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Gil Evans, and so many others. Q was highly proffesional, had trained at the future Berklee School of Music back when it was called “The Schillinger House”, and has also trained in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He also was one of the first Black arrangers to be involved on an ongoing basis with film scoring.

Through all of this, Q was developing a particular brand of musical magic that prepared him perfectly to deliver three of the best selling, most incredible examples of American popular music ever assembled, namely, “Off the Wall”, “Thriller”, and “Bad.” Now I don’t mean to make these three albums the focus of Q’s entire career that encompasses so much of whats good in American music, from Count Basie, to Frank Sinatra, to The Brothers Johnson, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. But what I will do with this series is talk about how the unique musical, experiential and spiritual gifts of Quincy Jones were present throughout his career on his solo albums, which really meant Michael Jackson was stepping into a rolling train when he and Q began work on “Off the Wall.” Which also made possible the later star studded success of “The Dude” and “Back on the Block.”

The different musical approaches of Q’s albums, from his skillful use of guest stars, his choice in cover songs, his incorporation of his portage’s compositions, his usage of tones such as flutes mixed with synthesizer leads, his dipping into the old blues and African styles, his jazz based pop language, and his strong rhythm sections manifest themselves on his pre “Off the Wall” and “The Dude” albums. So this particular series will focus on how Q innovated this genre of the producer led album, which is a genre that would later give us great musical works such as Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” Q really brought “The Producer” out as a star and musical artist in a way few have done. His skills as a producer were based in his skills as a composer and arranger, but when he reached the peak of his career he no longer needed to write or even arrange the tunes on his album. He mastered the very modern musical skills of setting the right tempos, choosing the right artists, both instrumentalists and vocalists, choosing the right songs, and a million other musical details that went beyond the magic of simply sitting at the piano or holding a guitar and writing a song. This magic of the producer is one that has been appreciated more and more by the music industry and the public at large in recent years. And it’s one I intend to explore in depth, from “Walking In Space” all the way to “Juke Joint”. Q’s success with MJ and his other R&B/pop hybrids in the 1980s was definitley not a fluke, but something masterminded by one of the greatest social musicians we’ve seen, the great Quincy Delight Jones!!!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Give me My Flowers While I'm Alive, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Special

Black History Month is admittedly one of those things my opinion of has vacillated on through the course of my life. When I was a young child in school I enjoyed it more than anything else in my school curriculum. I have always been the type of individual who views the acquisition of knowledge with the attitude of exploration and discovery. And Black history, both in Africa and America having the “Hidden” quality that it does, due to suppression, ignorance, arrogance the profitability of subjugation and domination. My parents always had a strong sense of Black history simply from their backgrounds, my father being born in the Depression era south and being active in the Civil Rights movement, and my mother being a Liberian with a rich understanding of both Africa and her country’s roots in being established as a haven from American slavery and white supremacy. Still, I don’t think the majority of Black parents want to overburden their children with sad and negative messages. So even with my parents having the knowledge of things that they did, some of the most substantial information would come out when they were watching and responding to news items.

I was fortunate enough to have Asian and white teachers in Oakland, California who were very responsive and understanding of the predominantly Black demographics of their school, under the guidance of Mrs. Kelly, a strong Black Principal, to inject Black and multi cultural information into the curriculum. I still remember my kindergarten Teacher Ms. Huen giving us red envelopes for Chinese New Year, which is also this month, and marks the return of my birth sign, the Rooster!

So I always enjoyed learning about Carter G Woodson, Lewis Latimer, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Phyllis Wheatley, W.E.B DuBois, Madame C.J Walker, and the numerous other luminary figures who against all odds contributed to America and kept Black people alive to get to the point we are today. Many of their inventions and discoveries proved to me a truth my father related to me from his experience down south, that a great many things were invented by very hands on Black people who were tasked with getting the work done and took it upon themselves to find an easier way to get those tasks accomplished.

Then when I grew up, in the Def Comedy Jam ’90s, I got innundated with the same jokes as everybody else, about how they “gave Black people the shortest month.” Which totally overlooks the contributions of Carter G Woodson and the fact that Black History Month is a BLACK invention. More recently the line has been “Black history is all year round”, which is one that I wholeheartedly agree with and try to practice on this blog and my other writing activities. However, just as with holidays, wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other events, there is a reason Human beings choose dates to commemorate things. There is a great power to Human ritual that we sometimes forget in our modern fragmented world, a certain purification of purpose and inspiration. And it’s in that spirit that I’m adding a supplement to “Music 4 the Nxt 1” in honor of Black history month. I will still review funky songs but the scope will expand in terms of era, genre, and locale. I will cover songs of inspiration, songs in honor of Black historical figures, and songs that were just breakthroughs or inspiring to Black people at any given point of time. These grooves will come from Reggae, Soul, Funk, Rock, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz and many other genres. I hope that my readers enjoy it and that it reminds you of the struggles, accomplishments, joys, pains and exultations of peoples of African descent and why it is critical our position continue to be strengthened for the good of all.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music for the NEXT One Purple MusicLives Edition : “Virtual Chocolate Cherry” by Wallace Roney

 

The only way I’ve been able to really come to grips with Prince’s passing has been through the artistic medium he mastered the most during his lifetime, music. Today’s “Music for the NEXT One selection, “Virtual Choclate Cherry” has several layers of musical and personal associations with Prince’s life and music. Wallace Roney is one of the “Young Lions” of Jazz who appeared on the scene in the 1980s. Unlike Wynton Marsalis, who although greatly influenced by Miles’ second Great Quintet, allowed himself to be positioned in the media as a sort of Anti Miles Davis, Wallace Roney embraced the broad, “Social Music” concept of post “In a Silent Way” Miles. He did this with a tone that was so Miles influenced that the members of the second Great Quintet, with all the original members save Miles himself, used him to take Miles place when they staged a reunion tour during the ’80s. Roney is also reputed to be one of Miles few trumpet students, and he supported Miles at the 1991 Montreaux Jazz Festival, with Quincy jones conducting Gil Evans classic arrangements from his collaborations with Miles. Of course, Miles and Prince were mutual fans of each other’s work as well as their mutual Gemini complexities. One of my big musical “what ifs” is imagining how the music would have sounded if those two Giants were able to record more. There are a few examples of their collaborations, but today’s song, “Virtual Chocolate Cherry” by Wallace Roney, might be the best example I’ve yet heard of a Miles musical attitude in a Prince type of musical environment. Roney takes Prince’s classic from the “1999” album, “D.M.S.R” and keeps the party going with room for the musicians to solo, and a fascinating new mix of synthesized pop and acoustic jazz textures.

The song begins at the beginning with the 8 note funky synth riff from “D.M.S.R”, played on a synth, sitting right on top of Lenny White’s drums. White’s drums have his classic, full, wide marching jazz sound, playing a funky, laid back variation of Prince’s original Linn Drum beat. In the 4th bar the acoustic bass comes in, and it has the freedom to improvise different funky lines as the electric piano plays a bluesy sounding riff. There is an electric wave sound in the background most likely added by co-producer Kareiem Riggens. At this point in my first hearing of the song I knew I was hearing “D.M.S.R” but I didn’t know how far Roney and company would go.

When the five note “D.M.S.R” blues riff comes in (DA-Da-DAAAH-DADA) you realize they’re going all out into full Purple mode! The synth hits with Mineapolis sound gospel chords as the acoustic bass begins to play Prince’s classic line. The Acoustic piano of Geri Allen takes over the playing of the introductory line played on synth. Wallace Roney comes in playing his variation of Prince’s vocal melody from the song, and he Tounges his trumpet very aggressively, spitting out staccato, funky notes, with the same type of bluesy tail off that was a trademark of the Miles Davis sound. Underneath Roney’s melody, Lenny White plays funky drum rolls, which he builds up to crescendo’s that pop right along with the synthesizers at the end holes in Roney’s melodic phrases (Wear lingerie to the restaurant!!!)

About 1:33 in, a very Minneapolis sounding keyboard riff comes in that moves the song through several keys, supported by Whites drums. This is the setup for the instrumental solo section of the song, which is still very well arranged through Roney’s solo. The first time around it serves as a cue for Roney to play the melody from the top again. The second time it appears it serves as a bridge to a serious minor key groove, which White begins by playing a James Brown style stop and start funk beat while the piano plays some dark sounding, ominous phrases. This serves as the launch pad for Roney to play some very Miles style things, one moment he’s playing a well shaped phrase and leaving space between it, the next he’s soaring like Miles in the ’60s and tumbling back down the horn. What makes it unique is he goes from ’60s Miles to playing things more reminiscent of an ’80s album like “Star People.” The sax and keyboards come in and play a unison line taken from Miles Davis song “Star on Cicely.” As the sax solo plays the piano stabs out well stated chords.

After the sax solo, a Fender Rhodes solo is introduced, quite tellingly it’s not the lush Rhodes sound we know and love, but the brittle, time heavy Rhodes sound from Miles recordings with Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea in the ’60s. After that piano comes in and plays a groove supported by synth. The Mineapolis key changes again bring us right back to the top, with Roney playing the “Dance Music Sex Romance” melody, the band laying down some calamitous jazz funk, and trumpet and tenor playing a duet on the way out that Roney leaves with an abrupt trumpet call, leaving it to the Tenor man to play us on out.

I love “Virtual Chocolate Cherry” because it realizes in a musical sense, the deep love and respect Miles Davis had for the music of Prince. It Los gives us a taste of how the ’80s could have sounded if the soul jazz musicians like Jimmy Smith, Lou Donaldson, and Jimmy McGriff could have gotten their hands on Prince’s music and created true fusions of electronics and acoustics in line with their ’60s records. The mixture of Prince’s composition and arrangement, Roney’s rearrangement to fit a jazz style, and Miles way of musical thinking, trumpet sound (through Roney), and even some phrases and instrumental textures from “Star People” and “Bitches Brew” make for an incredible, never heard before musical combination. And a good way to console ourselves in this time of a Prince’s passing and “Miles Ahead” in the theaters, thanks to musicians like Wallace Roney and his band, Jazz, Miles Davis music, and the music of Prince will live on!!

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Filed under Appreciation, Music for the Next ONE, Uncategorized

James Brown’s Greatest Opening Lines : A James Brown Day Celebration

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May 3 of this year marks what would be the Godfather of Soul, James Brown’s 83rd birthday. Of course Mr. Brown is a big hero of this blog and my musical activities and outlook in general. This year I want to take a different approach to remembering him and his music. I want to talk about a small idiosyncrasy of his legendary performing style, his love of spoken introductions. James Brown records were all about getting you into the groove as quickly as possible, and his recording style reflected his unique position as singer/bandleader. It really was Brown’s interest in, feel for, and direction of his backing music which took him places very few singer/performers ever go, into the realm of total musical influence, without spending much time on an instrument. He also pioneered a loose, laid back production style that would find life in things like Hip Hop skits. James Brown productions often feature a little “rap”, hip, stylized expressions. Browns penchant for band directions however, was a big part of his performing, band leading, and recording/production style, and it’s also a feature that’s been mocked by great comedians such as Eddie Murphy. It’s in that spirit that I serve up this list of James Brown’s greatest song introductions

17. “Hit It”/”Doin it to Death”: getting straight down to business, JB’s “Hit It” on the Fred Wesley and the JB’s 1973 classic “Doin it to Death” is one of his most straight up, immediate intro’s. The groove the JB’s had cookin was hot, and JB didn’t need to waste a lot of time setting the groove up, the band was already “Doin it to death”, just like the workers in the factory where Fred Wesley once worked that inspired the song title.

16. “Owwwwww”/Ain’t That a Groove”: the scream of ecstasy, passion and pain, “ow!” Is of course one of JB’s favorite exclamations and he opened a bunch if songs with it. This particular “Ow” is super stylized though, as befitting the groovy, swinging soul jazz tune to follow.

15. “Pick up on This!”/”I’m a Greedy Man”: JB means serious business here as he barks out his commands. This is a “pay attention to papa” type opener. Salt n Pepa would pick up on it for their Hip Hop classic, “Push It” about fifteen years later.

14. “One, Two, Three, Make it Funky!”/”Make it Funky”: This one follows one of James Brown and Bobby Byrds most celebrated intro bits, with Mr. Byrd telling Brown, “What you go’ play now? And Brown replying, “Bobby, I don’t know, but WHATSENEVER I play….it’s got…to be…FUNKY!” JB’s count off perfectly sets up the slow, heavy, grinding funk with a light swing of this early Funk classic.

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13. “Owwwwww!”/I Got Ants in my Pants”: Another song, another “Ow”, but this time delivered with more in your face gusto.

12. “One, Two, Three, Take your Time!”/”I Refuse to Lose”: As most JB fans are probably aware, most of his song openers are verbal variations of him counting off the groove. What’s interesting is thinking about the relationship between his count offs, the excessive, strict, blue collar rehearsals he put his bands through, and the relationship between his count offs and the grooves the band are able to fall into and stick to with absolute conviction. “I Refuse to Lose” is a lesser known Funk classic from 1976’s comeback record “Get Up Offa That Thing.” The song is anchored by a tense, super funky Jimmy Nolen guitar part. James count off is brisk, and perfectly sets up the uptempo groove to follow. I’d guess his instructions to “Take your time” were based in any tendency he noticed during rehearsals to rush the groove and make an uptempo groove even faster, again, James Brown music locks it in the pocket!

11. “One, Two, One, Two, Three”/”Let Yourself Go”: “Let Yourself Go” was one of the important songs as James Brown made his transition over from a personal brand of Soul and R&B into Funk. It’s laid back, phat groove, accented with Afro-Latin percussion, would pave the way for his show stopping, “There was a Time.” JB’s count off really fits right with what was,a new kind of groove, slow and funky.

10. “One, Two, And she Go!!!!”/”Funky Drummer”: “Funky Drummer” is one of those tunes that’s all about the band, basically an instrumental with some funky talk from JB that would allow it to sneak on the radio under JB’s name. Of course it’s also a showcase for one of the most influential drumbeats of all time, the contributions of Clyde Stubblefield the tune is named after. Brown’s count off is directed at setting up an easy, swinging groove, much more laid back than the other funk hits of this era, such as “I Got the Feeling”, or “Mother Popcorn.” I must admit though, I’m not 100% sure he actually said “and she go” as that opening phrase, but Ima roll with that until something better comes along.

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9.”One, Two, Three, Hit It!”/”Super Bad”: this is one JB’s most violent, aggressive count offs, for one his most tension filled, funkiest hits. “Super Bad” is one of the high points of Bootsy And Catfish Collins brief time in the James Brown band. The rhythm section is basically just a taut trio of Bootsy, his brother Catfish, and long time James Brown drummer John “Jab’O” Starks playing a drumbeat he says he got from beats for tap dancers. The beat is also accented by the percussion of long time JB percussionist Johnny Griggs, and the horns play sharp, stabbing literal jabs. The track is like Muhammed Ali, floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee.

8.”Ready!?”/”Get on Up, Get Into it! Get Involved” & “The Funky Side of Town”: every now and then JB would ask the band if they were “ready” probably after 8 hours of rehearsals, checking to see if they still had a pulse. In this case, the “Ready” in “Get Up” has political resonance, and the “Ready” in “Funky Side of Town” is a call to have a funky good time.

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7.”Whoooooah!”/”I Feel Good”: Of all JB’s wordless vocalizing intros, the holler that inaugurated “I Feel Good” is tops in my book. Of course “I Feel Good” is one of his best known, best songs, a catchy, peppy number with a groove formulated during the James Brown bands transition into Funk, grooving but still related enough to the pop music scene as to be twist fodder for the public at large. And the hook is one of JB’s uncomplicated best. But it’s all kicked off by a legendary scream that became good material for samplers of the future.

6. “One, Two, Get Down!”/”The Boss”: “The Boss” is one of the iciest funk grooves in the James Brown songbook, concocted for the 1973 gangster movie “Black Caesar.” The proper aggressive tone is set right at the top by J.B’s count off, with the “Get Down” taking on all kind of meanings; band instruction, cheerleading, and warning!

5. “Fellas I wanna get into it man, you know…”/”Sex Machine”: “Sex Machine” is one of J.B’s most important records a taut, sexy new funk groove for the dawn of the 1970s, anchored by the active bass imagination of Bootsy Collins, his brother Catfish’s space saving rhythm licks, and Jab’O’s cool, ice water veined funk pulse. Call and response between J.B and his right hand man, the great Bobby Byrd, is at an all time high on this song, and the interplay between their voices would be a key aspect of their records during this period. But J.B starts the song with a cool, hanging out type intro, leading to his famous, “can I count it off!?!?!”

James Brown on drums with  an early version of The Famous Flames

James Brown on drums with an early version of The Famous Flames

4. “One, Two, One, Two, Three, UH!”/”Hot Pants”: Brown counts off a nasty tempo, punctuated by one of his famous band punches. The intro is a setting for “Hot Pants” slow, funky, ice cream melting in the summer time groove, anchored by the simple, ghetto bass throb of Fred Thomas and the insistent, chattering, lisping splank a lang of guitarist Hearlon “Cheese” Martin. This era of J.B might represent his and Fred Wesley’s greatest achievements as bandleader/arrangers, taking a band that was essentially raw, and making some of the best known hits of J.B’s career, going in a less dense direction than the Collins brothers/Cincinnati and they replaced. And it all starts with JB’s mellow but funky count off.

3. “One, Two, One, Two, Three, Four”/”Cold Sweat”: and off into history. “Cold Sweat”, after hundreds of years of African in America funkiness, is widely regard as the beginning of modern funk history, with it’s pistoning funk machine drumbeat from Clyde Stubblefield, Bernard Odums super deep bass tone playing an Afro-Latin line, a super funky two guitar arrangement, one guitar playing a funky single note line and the other scratching away in percussive strokes, a unique tonality from the key of Dorian, popularized on Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”, and another thing borrowed from “Kind of Blue”, the actual famous horn riff/chord to “So What”, played by the horn section as interjection/response to J.B’s lyrics. And it all starts with the sultry tempo set at the top by Brown.

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2. “Que Pasa People, Que Pasa, Hit Me!”/”Get on the Good Foot”: J.B opened up 1972’s peppy dance hit with a bit of Trans American slang, Proto-rapped in a chant cadence that perfectly took up one bar. This is one of James Brown Ebonics most controversial lines, with some people hearing it as “Can’t pass the peas.” But I go with “Que Pasa”, if you listen to the song all the way, Brown goes into some Spanish later on the fade out. James Brown toured the world many times over, and in the early ’70s he was particular interested in third world liberation. He has a song on the same album called, “The Whole World Needs Liberation.” He also opened up a club called “The Third World” in Georgia during this time period. James was fascinated at this time by the international impact he and other black figures like Muhammed Ali were having, it was almost as if through the struggle for rights here in the U.S, black figures were joining the global pantheon of Liberators, as maybe the best examples of them, in the belly of the biggest superpower the world had yet seen. If u check J.B’s stage performances you’ll find him speaking a few words of the language of whatever nation he happened to be Doin his thang in!

1. “UH! With your BAD self!”/”Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”: The top JB introduction is this funky soul brother street slang that led off the 1968 anthem. James opening “Uh” sets the stage for a funky drum beat, the count off is rock hard, with him using the black slang “Bad” as a term of encouragement and praise. The beat to follow is be rock hard, and James Brown’s legacy was cemented as musical and social icon of his time!

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*we all know the late great Prince Rogers Nelson was one of the biggest students, inheritors, and expanders of the James Brown legacy, and his musical associate Sheila E was responsible for one of the freshest James Brown count offs in history on her Prince penned and played classic “Love Bizarre”, “A, B, A, B, C, D!”

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, Appreciation, FUNK, Music Matters

Riquespeaks : Looking Ahead to 2016….what’s in store

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2015 has been an eventful year both on this blog and in my life as a whole. The year was my first full one after having left Oakland and moving to a neighboring East Bay city, and I was extremely busy at work. My primary blogging outlet was on my friend Andre Grindle’s blog, Andresmusictalk, where I developed the “Anatomy of the Groove” column and encouraged several other developments on that blog. “Anatomy of The Groove” enabled me to do something that is one of my passions, write about and promote new good music, specifically in the real, of funky music. The other exciting development in my writing career was I began writing for a new online and print magazine, “Kwee, The Liberian Literary Journal.” My involvement with the Journal stemmed from blog postings that my readers here at riquespeaks enjoyed the most, several of my posts that dealt with pre war history in the country of Liberia, West Africa. These posts on Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, and Hugh Masekela were a heartfelt contribution from me to Liberian history, information my musical digging lead me to that I knew others would appreciate as well. The response my readers gave to them, sharing and reporting them lead to this exciting oppurtunity, writing for a magazine that aims to create and strengthen a literary culture for Liberians. I enjoy writing for “Kwee” because it’s a very creative assignment, and it involves my favorite part of writing, the resarch it takes to get the facts straight. The creativity comes from unearthing little known stories about Liberia and crafting them in a way so as to broaden the narrative, history and story of Liberia. It can be a very challenging task, but as such it’s also the most rewarding. It allows me to go beyond e typical bloggers obsession with stuff I like into something that is important to a larger sphere of people. As such, in three short years of blogging, my Liberia posts and articles at Kwee represent, my whole reason for doing this.

Being the loyal Scorpio I am though, I always dance with who brought me. riquespeaks Is still of the utmost importance to me because of the immediacy and freedom it offers me as a writer. I also dig the time bomb nature of blogs, how something I wrote two years ago can blow up out of nowhere, and totally beyond my control. I anticipate 2016 to be my busiest writing year yet. My activities at “Kwee” will continue, as I strive to refine my articles and continue telling the story of Liberia in the larger world. 2016 is an election year, and I plan to do more of my own brand of political commentary, focusing not so much on policies and numbers, but on the thoughts behind political events and what they say about us as a nation. You can also of course look forward to plenty of reviews of the music, books, and movies that I feel set new templates for Black/African creative expression in 2016, as well as retrospectives on some of my old favorites. I will continue the column I introduced this year “Music for the Next ONE”, which deals with contemporary, non ’70s funk music. Some artists who will be featured soon are XL Middleton, Anderson Paak, and I will also continue to deal with under the radar funk from the 1980s, ’90s and ’00s, maybe with more passion than before. My appreciation for funky songs in the past 25 years or so continues to grow as I realize how much funk we had in a time the Funk was downplayed as a genre. To that I will be adding a new column that will deal with those funk classics of the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s. Though I know records like “Brick House” and “Shining Star” were much enjoyed in their times, I think there is still more to be said about the big time funk. I’d like to collect some of these funk stories out there in one place, give my own impressions of the music, talk a little bit about the structure of these songs and their appeal musically, and discuss what their impact has been over the 50, 40, or 35 years they’ve been around. Including how they’ve been sampled, covered, or used in television and film. I also have many other things coming up, but I’ll let them develop before I speak on them. But here are a few things you will be able to read for sure on the blog this year:

“Ben Carson and Islam”: Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson made some remarks a few months ago about the possibility of a Muslim President that provided a teachable moment I felt America let drift off it’s radar screen. It’s far easier to show outrage, for or against, than to have a sensible discussion in America today. While I feel what Ben Carson said was unwise, I do feel it was based on a point of view about America that is legitimate. The only problem is when Dr. Carson points the finger at Muslims, he has three pointing back at American religious fundamentalists of all stripes. America missed a chance given to us by Dr. Carson’s comments to discuss religion, Democracy, and whether or not any religious fundamentalist, Christian or Muslim, can serve this nation and retain the individual liberty and freedom of choice that is supposed to be a part of this nations soul. I will kick start that conversation here.

“20 years of Funk”: Rickey Vincent’s seminal book, “Funk: The Music, People, and Rhythm of the One” will turn 20 years old in 2016. This book is the reason I blog and write about Funk. I cannot underestimate it’s importance for me. Now, Funk was always my favorite music. It took me a long time to appreciate ballads, and the synth pop dance records of my youth could only satisfy me up to a certain point. I always loved Hip Hop, but musically it has it’s limits as well. But until Rickey Vincent did his book, I had no proper language to put James Brown, P Funk, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Public Enemy, Grover Washington Jr, and Michael Jackson in the same stream of music. The industry would call one Soul, the other R&B, the other Hip Hop, some Jazz, all to the detriment of the understanding of “funk.” I knew the groove but I didn’t know it represented such a thorough cultural system, really the cultural breakthrough and attitude of the decade of the 1970s. My understanding has grown from there into finding funk “in all aisles of the record store”. Now some of my favorite funk songs come from artists who cut in many different genres. I thank Rickey for this understanding he blessed me with and I will celebrate it this coming year.

“Dad and two Jazz Visions of Liberia”: I did an article in “Kwee” about two jazz records dedicated to Liberia, by the tenor saxophonists Curtis Amy, and the great John Coltrane. Since the article in “Kwee” was for the public at large, I didn’t get as personal on how those two records remind me of Dad and his time in Liberia in particular and why they are so special personally. In 2016 I will write about that here.

Review of “Midnight”: I’ve always felt, since I first read “The Coldest Winter Ever” that Sister Souljah’s book cycle was a major work. On my last birthday, 11-11-15, Souljah released the novel that saw her beloved hero character, Midnight, end up in jail. I hesitate to review the Midnight books because I enjoy reading them so much. In this review I will explore why I feel Souljah’s wide international sweep, ethical vision for African people’s, and unique viewpoints on Manhood outweigh her preachiness and often times prosaic and stilted language. Souljah’s “Midnight” represents her critique of America, as well as her solutions for Black people in America. I never cease to be amazed by the thoroughness of her vision and critique and the almost scriptural life system she lays out in her “Midnight” books. It’s almost like the comprehensive cultural critique of her old group Public Enemy put into book form.

“Pharrell and the Art of Interpolation”: the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit shined a light on a creative technique that has always existed in Hip Hop (and music as a whole). Pharrell Williams has been a master in his musical career of taking the feeling of older pieces of music without electronically sampling them or copying them wholesale. This series will be a celebration of his music and his influences, as well a s either a possible defense, or further indictment, depending on your outlook.

“Its Time for A Bill Russell Statue in Oakland”: We all know Gertrude Stein’s famous Oakland quote, “there’s no there, there.” While that quote is almost always taken out of context, sometimes we try our damnedest to make it true in The Town it would seem. One of the problems is we don’t preserve or create enough landmarks to represent our cities rich history and potentials. In Bill Russell, we have the greatest winning player in NBA history. As such, Mr. Russell is also a symbol of the journey of the black community to Oakland during the second great migration, which provided Oakland with the dynamic Black population that defined the city for half a century. As a great example of sportsmanship, dedication, humanitarianism and achievement, Bill Russell is one of the greatest people to come through the Oakland public school system. Honoring him here would symbolize the achievements of the time period during which Oakland became the most diverse city in America and a city talked about all across the globe.

“Miss Veronica”: a tribute to a dear friend and mentor I lost in 2015.

There is much more in store but that is just a little bit to whet the palette. I’d like to wish my readers much success and happiness in the coming year, thank you for your support and make sure to check in with me in 2016!

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Filed under Appreciation, Oakland-Bay Area

Remembering Louis Johnson

If American pop culture was tailored to the tastes of those folks Amiri Baraka described as “Blues People”, there would have been a video game called “Bass Hero” last decade. Imagine video game cartridges with illustrations of an animated Bootsy, or Larry Graham. Chuck Rainey, and Anthony Jackson, Victor Wooten and Marcus Miller. James Jamerson, and one with a special edition for keyboard bass, featuring Stevie Wonder, Billy Preston, Herbie Hancock, Bernie Worrell and Junie Morrison among others. Two of the funkiest and most popular games would undoubtedly be for two bass players who’ve now unfortunately passed on. Both of them came to prominence in the 1970s and took the bass advancements of the ’60s to a new level of visibility. Jaco Pastorius of Weather Report has been gone for a long time. Last month the great Louis Johnson joined him.

Louis Johnson’s death shocked me because at 60 years old I still considered him a young man. He was a young man relative to two other legends we lost last month, The great Kings, Ben E. And B.B. But I think the reasons I will forever view Louis Johnson as young have to do with his athletic, muscular style of bass playing, and the album cover to his first album with his brother George, “Look Out for #1”

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Now by the time I came along in the early ’80s, that first Brothers Johnson album was one of the newer ones in pops collection. By that time he was already moving into tapes and CDs and most of his vinyl had jazz era scenes on them. But “Look Out for #1 had two young black men on the cover with monster afro’s and nothing but blue sky behind them. Even a few years later in the design conscious ’80s that was a powerful statement. Then I remembered Dad telling me Quincy Jones was their producer, the same man who was producing Michael Jackson’s music, which was the biggest music in the world.

The essay on the cover of an album told a story of two young musicians, the guitar playing Brother George who’s nickname was “Lightning Licks”, and the bass playing Louis, “Thunder Thumbs.” Then when I heard the music I was mesmerized by “Get the Funk Out Ma Face.” I had no idea where the groove was coming from and even less idea of how Louis was making his sound. At that time all I knew of bass was it was a low deep sound I liked, but I was clueless to the actual techniques of bass playing.

I had also heard The Brothers Johnson tune “Stomp”, but Louis sounded different on that, more rounded and smooth, until he whips out his relentless bass riff on the bridge. Then Quincy Jones released “Back on the Block” and amazingly there was a song from The Brothers, “Tommorow”, this time with lyrics sung by Tevin Cambpell!

As my musical appreciation grew, so did my appreciation of The Brothers Johnson. The two brothers from LA took the soul music world by storm in the ’70s, playing with Billy Preston and Bill Withers. This eventually lead to their work with Quincy Jones on his “Mellow Madness” album. With Q’s production, and their own songs and unique, sibling synced funk, they blew all the way up on A&M. I’ve always viewed The Brothers Johnson as one of the bands in Funk that truly had the right situation to show off their talents and get their music to the people. This led to Gold and Platinum albums and their cover of Shuggies Otis’ song “Strawberry Letter 23” being one of the classic songs of the ’70s.

George Johnson was the super cool vocalist and primary songwriter on most of their big hits, but Louis bass style made him an in demand session bassist in the mold of Chuck Rainey, James Jamerson, Carole Kaye, and Anthony Jackson. What was unique about Louis career was by the time he came along, people were finally hip to how much a strong bass line could do for a song. And he came to the plate with a flashy, powerful, super hip bass style. Larry Graham, Bootsy and Louis are probably the Trinity of funk bassists in terms of both style and recognition. Louis Johnson would be hired on record gigs basically to play Louis Johnson. This is significant because some great bass players get gigs with the expectation of them being versatile and playing what ever you put in front of them. Though Louis had some versatility as well, you hired him to bring the sound of Louis Johnson to your track, much as you would a great jazz soloist.

This led to one of the most successful studio careers in history, in what was both a golden age and a twilight for studio musician work. He played funk, soul, pop and jazz gigs. The more I grew as an enthusiast of records I’d discover things like the fact Louis was playing on Grover Washingtons “Feel So Good” album. It was like his groove was so powerful it was it’s own genre or style, you would hear a record with dope bass and be grooving to it without even knowing who was playing it. Then you’d find out it was Louis Johnson. And though he was known for slap, many times you would hear him playing finger style and the effect was the same. All ears on the bass! He most definitely helped pave the way for today’s world of star bassists like Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten.

I finally got the chance to see Louis perform here in the Bay Area in the mid ’00s. There is footage on the Internet of him teaching bass and he seemed like a very nice, soft spoken, cool person, which is a trip when you think of how aggressive his bass style was. I really can’t formulate any words of wisdom or way to summarize how I feel about Louis Johnson because he’s been a constant in my life for a long time, through his music. We still have his music of course, as well as footage of him teaching. But I think I feel good about his legacy when I see that girl play his classic bass part to Michael Jackson’s “Get on the Floor”, one of the meanest bass tracks in history. Yeah. That makes me feel much better….

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Filed under Appreciation, FUNK, Music Matters

Riquespeaks on SoulSchool TV: Calvin Lincoln and Riquespeaks salute Joe Sample and the Crusaders

Last week was an excellent week for me as I taped my first appearance on SoulSchool Television, which aired in Vallejo, California as well as around the world wide web last Friday. The show was also repeated all weekend. Taping the show last Monday really started my week with a bang because it was fulfillng a dream I’d had for quite some time. I have already ran it down here on how viewing SoulSchool in my teens was something that helped me along the road of deeper music appreciation. Between my parents, Rickey Vincents funk book, my older hip hop heroes like M.C Hammer and Chuck D, and SoulSchool, I was able to escape the vapors of negative thinking and violence that was being sold in much of the pop music of that time period.

And there couldn’t have been a more apt subject to make my first appearance talking about. I’m sure many of you reading this are already aware of the passing of the great Joe Sample, keyboardist and founding member of the Crusaers, formerly known as the Jazz Crusaders. The Crusaders are a group who’s music I’ve always dug, being exposed to it in the home. But as the years have passed, I’ve found out more and more how essential they’ve been to music as session players. Members of the group played with Billy Joel, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Hugh Masekela, Hues Corporation, Bobby Blue Bland, Jimmy Smith, Carole King, Barry White, Seals & Croft and many many other artists. That list puts them up there as a truly dominating force of the 1970s music for me.

The Crusaders anthemic 1979 song “Street Life” is a landmark in particular for me. I grew up hearing the bright, brassy voice of Randy Crawford testifying, “That’s all that’s left for me.” When I was a kid, that song was some other kind of adult business. It was funky, bluesy, hip, jazzy, with a high gloss sheen and notes of sadness at the core when you licked away the sweet coating. It was one of my fathers favorite records, and looking back I could see why. In 1979 my dad was a 48 year old African American lawyer, naturalized as a citizen of the Republic of Liberia, where he’d lived for 20 years. He was on his second marriage and had five kids, unaware he had one yet on the way. But for me personally, I’ve always associated the world weary vibe of “Street Life” with where Liberia was in 1979. ’79 turned out to be a pivotal year in Liberian history, with a major civil disturbance known as the Rice Riots occuring that April when the President attempted to raise the price of rice, the staple food, during the midst of the world wide late ’70s recession and commodities squeeze.

What was going on however was more than a riot over the price of rice. It was a full blown revolution over the long years of rule by the descendants of the African American founders of Liberia. It was led by well educated young Liberians, many with a background partially in the ruling class and partically among the native people. These young men were schooled in the United States and Europe and witnessed the upheavels of the ’60s and ’70s and wanted to bring similar liberations to their home country. They began to question things like why their country only had one strong political party, why there was a boatload of money coming in from foreign concessions and yet poverty was rampant, and why the government ministers were the richest people in the land.

At the same time, the nation was prettying itself up to host the OAU, Organization of African Unity Conference, and also recieved a visit from President Jimmy Carter in that same year.

Mom and Dad were there watching the whole thing go down. My mother always told me a story about how the soldiers had set up a blockade during the riots. My father and my older brother George had gone to run some errand, Dad deeming it only safe for the two of them to do so under the conditions the country was in. She said something to the effect of Dad having moved a blockade and the soldiers harrasing them, until he flashed his credentials as an ex member of the Port Security, which was one of his first jobs when he got to Liberia.

My parents had the foresight to begin preparing to leave Liberia very soon after that. My grandmother, Ms. Leona Birden was falling into ill health here in San Francisco. Not to mention the fact that my brothers and sisters school fees at the American Consolidated School, the finest school in Liberia, were spiralling out of control. All of this and the political trouble gave him the impetus to get up and bounce, my family left a year after the Riots, in April of 1980. A week after they arrived, Dad is laying in bed in Oakland and he gets a phone call. “Your President just died”, he was told. “Who, Carter?” Dad replied. “Carters not your PResident, I’m talking about Tolbert, man.”

There is something about the mixture of celebration, joy and pathos in “Street Life” that represents 1979, what happened in Liberia, and also holds cautionary notes for what would soon happen in the black communities of America with the crack epidemic firing up a few years after that. The Crusaders, OG’s from Los Angeles by way of Houston, Texas, could have told many a young brother where that broad and spacious road led. Chic’s “Good Times” has similar notes of pathos in it, with lyrics that speak of “A rumor has it/its getting late/time marches on/you just cant change your fate.”

So music from 1979 always has a strong place in my heart and mind. When I hear a “Shake Your Body Down”, or a “I wanna be Your Lover”, or a “Street Life”, those funky, funky, joyful records, I always think about the Babylonians or Nero partying on the eve of their destructions. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tommorow we may die.” But “Street Life” is a record that mourns just as much as it celebrates.

There is a tape I’ve desperately been trying to find among my dad’s music collection I hope to share with everybody as soon as I can find it. It’s a tape from Liberia in early 1980. A young girl calls in to the radio station and requests “Street Life.” The radio announcer, in typical African “it takes a village” fasion, chides her, “You be in the street huh? What you know ’bout street life.” The girl said, “nothing, I just like the song.” Me and Pops would always fall out laughing when we heard that. It was so Liberian, and so full of the old school concern for the young. The same thing folks here talk about when they talk about the neighbors discipling you when you did bad as well as the parents.

“Street Life” was a song Joe Sample wrote, and he also played on a version Herb Alpert cut of it that very same year. I will always thank him for it and his tremendous contribution to his times. Sample and the Crusaders didn’t let jazz critics set their sound, they always let the people and the audience be the barometer of what they were doing. And they were able to touch many people because of that.

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Filed under All That Jazz, Appreciation, FUNK, Liberia/Africa, Moving Pictures, Music Matters