Category Archives: Oakland-Bay Area

Posts related to my ongoing love affair with my native land, Oakland, the East Bay and the Bay Area in general. Will include pictures, essays, and local news/events chronicling Bay Area people’s attempts to build a stronger community, and the obstacles they face as well

Tommie Smith, Athletic Protest, and the Greatness of the Raiders

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This past Monday night was a very special one as both a Raider fan and a Black history buff. My hometown Oakland Raiders went down to Mexico City to play a Monday Night Football contest and defeated the Houston Texans. This was special on several levels. For one, it was a unique experience to see an Oakland Raider game played in Mexico. Many of the most die hard Raider fans in the Bay Area and L.A are of Spanish descent, including many close friends, and some of them even made it to the game. I could tell from the social media posts they were sharing that to be able to explore the country of their ancestors while also enjoying their hometown team play (and win) a football game is an experience that touched them deeply. It was also special validation of the Raiders to win a big international game on Monday Night Football. During the Raiders decades of dominance in the 1970’s and ’80s they were especially known for their excellence when the lights shone the brightest, on prime time Monday night games. Those Monday night games exposed the nation to the pirates, bikers, soul brothers, renegade drinkers, central casting running backs (Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson), and reckless hitters who together created the Raider mystique. Winning on an internationally televised stage legitimatizes what we’ve known in the Bay Area all year, The Raiders truly can play! But Raiders owner Mark Davis did something else that made a very powerful statement.

Colin Kapernick, starting QB for the 49ers has drawn both haters and lovers for his National Anthem protests this football season, with some even dubiously claiming they are behind the NFL’s current ratings drop. Those protests have evolved from simply remaining seated to taking a dignified knee, and he’s been joined in them by members of his own team, as well as players on other teams and in other sports. The motivation behind them has been the nearly unceasing stream of officer involved, racially motivated shootings by police officers against Black men and women during the past few years, which leads back to the legacy of Jim Crow and America’s history of racial repression. With Kap’s proud Afro and Ethiopianesque visage, both his image and his stance remind one of the Black sports heroes of the 1960s in particular, people like Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Muhammed Ali, and many other athletes of that time. He has been counseled in his sports activism by a Soul Survivor veteran of the Civil Rights and Black Power days, Dr. Harry Edwards, who organized a legendary boycott by black athletes of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games.

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Those games are legendary for the manner in which they highlighted the racial tensions of the time. Dr. King was killed in April, and America endured it’s largest scale racial rioting in its history. The phrase “Black Power”, unleashed by Stokely Carmichael right next to Dr. King in 1966 had resounded with a powerful echo in the worldwide Black community, and James Brown had already released his anthemic “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.” The Black Panthers had been around for two years and were fixtures on the nightly news, and every force in Black life, from the right, left, and center were being galvanized on where they stood on the new wave of Malcom X, Marcus Garvey, Third World Liberation Black militant thought that had finally come to the forefront.

It was in this environment that Dr. Harry Edwards called for a boycott by Black Athletes of the ’68 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Muhammed Ali had already provided the greatest example of a star Athlete resisting racial and governmental tyranny by refusing his induction to the draft in 1967. By the late ’60s professional sports had emerged as possibly the largest positive reflection of Black people in the United States and increasingly the world, with the way paved by stars such as Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Don Barksdale, Woody Strode, the great Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Joe Louis, Muhammed Ali, and many others. Many of these stars were very explicitly socially and politically active, but even those who were not were very useful to demonstrate the fact that Black people had the ability to do great things in modern society. Back when Jesse Owens owned the 1936 Olympics, it was suggested by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi propagandists that “Blacks lacked the intelligence to run”, which is an absurd claim considering people of African descent are known for our athletic prowess today. But it represents the totalitarian thinking on race that gripped the 20th century and would exist today if not for the obvious exploits of so many great Black people.

What made a larger impression on history was not the boycott, but two Bay Area sprinters who actually competed in the games, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Gold and Bronze winners of the 200 meter race. Their black glove raised protest, feet shorn in black socks standing on the podium in victory, provided possibly the greatest visual of the Black Power era, an image that matched Brown and Mayfield and Franklin’s music and Malcom X’s speeches. This action, though celebrated now, resulted in death threats and ostracism from the Olympic and Track and Field establishments.

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History has been very kind however to the legacies of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Raider owner Mark Davis added to that on Monday Night. He invited Dr. Tommie Smith to fly with the team to Mexico City to light the torch that a Raider great lights before every home game in honor of his father, Al Davis. This was significant on several levels because Tommie Smith (who had a very brief NFL career) never played for the Raiders but is like the Raiders, a Bay Area legend who is a symbol for standing for what you believe in. The man who’s torch he lit that night, Al Davis, was perhaps the supreme maverick of NFL history, a man who drafted a Black Quarterback in the first round and hired one of his former players, Art Shell, to be the first Black NFL Head Coach in 1989. Davis was also known to be one of the first men in professional football (along with Bill Nunn Sr. of the Pittsburg Steelers) to regularly scout the HBCU’s, where he found Hall of Famers like Gene Upshaw and Art Shell.

The symbolism and the reality of this action shocked me for several reasons. While I know Al Davis and the Raiders have always been a very progressive team socially and culturally, they are also a very “blue collar” team. In fact, Im pretty sure that the small numbers of people who voted for Donald Trump in the Bay Area had many Raider fans among them. But the Raiders also represent a powerful coming together of Black, White, and Mexican working class people in the East Bay Area of California, other places like Los Angeles and the rest of the country. The Raiders have strong Mexican associations such as their legendary theme song, and the original name of the team was slated to be “The Senors” before a little girl suggested the name “Raiders.” They wear Black, just as Smith and Carlos did in Mexico City in 1868, and just as that other great Oakland institution, The Black Panthers, and another one, The Hell’s Angels. And they also always had the renegade vibe of the Hells Angels with players such as Ken Stabler, John Mutusack, Ted Hendricks and many other Raider greats.

The Raiders did this in a Bay Area sports world that has always been as progressive and nonconformist as the Bay Area as a whole. The Bay Area has had wild sports visionaries like Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley, who clad his team in the perfect “Have a Nice Day” 1970s uniform of Green and Gold while winning three straight World Series. It also had my favorite coach, the visionary Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers, who elevated offensive football to a science and also instituted a minority coach apprenticeship program in the NFL that led to Black NFL Head Coaches like Dennis Green, Marvin Lewis and Ray Rhodes. Walsh did this while employing and being advised by the organizer of that ’68 Olympic boycott, Dr. Harry Edwards, who also advises Colin Kaepernick almost 50 years later in 2016.

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In the end, Tommie Smith’s Al Davis torch lighting was an incredible moment for the NFL, The Raiders, Black athletes and the legacy of Bay Area sports. When Colin Kaepernick began his protests, I had the feeling no Oakland Raiders would be able to participate as freely in the protests. In fact, two players did raise a fist before a game and caused some friction among the team. Mark Davis has stated that he did not mind his players protesting but did not want them to do so, while in uniform, which he felt would tarnish the Raider brand. However he had met Tommie Smith through his father when he was in college and had a great appreciation for what those men did on that day. The Raider fan base is unique, probably containing both Donald Trump supporters with Black militants and Obama supporters, and some of those same Mexican Americans and native Mexicans Trump wants to build a wall to exclude. What unites them is an independent, hard working, that provides an example of how united America will be once the old divisions can no longer be used to run games, which is what the best of sports does as a whole. While I don’t want Dr. Tommie Smith’s torch lighting to be used to suggest all Black struggle is a thing of the past and not relevant when modern day athletes express their desire to see social change happen today, I applaud it as the most “Raider” thing I’ve seen in too long of a time!

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Filed under Black Issues, Oakland-Bay Area, Politrix, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing, Sports

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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SoulSchool TV Upcoming Teaser : Rickey Rouse of P-Funk and Death Row

My last post on riquespeaks “P-Funk is Hot: Go see ’em”, was a review of last weekend, May 8-10’s Parliament-Funkadelic gigs at Yoshi’s San Francisco in the Filmore distric, in particular the show on May 10. What I didn’t go into in that post was that Calvin Lincoln of SoulSchool Television had the oppurtunity to interview guitar player Rickey Rouse and I was fortunate enough to be behind the camera for the interview. We met up with Rickey at the bands hotel in Oakland. Rickey was really cool as he ran down his dope musical resume. He’s a lead guitarist who also plays other instruments as well as writes songs, and he was well acclaimed in years past for being an excellent interpreter of Jimi Hendrix classic catalog and guitar style. Rouse laid out an engaging musical story, taking him from auditioning in Detroit at the exact same time as Stevie Wonder with Motown, going to hanging out with George Clinton and the early Funkadelics, seeing Sly Stone at his peak, playing with The Undisputed Truth, being good friends with Gary Shider of P-Funk, playing with Chaka Khan, and then problably the work for which he is most known, his studio work with Dr.Dre and Death Row Records at the peak of G-Funk. It’s funny because I had been on a Beyonce trip recently and I was listening to her and Jay-Z’s “Bonnie & Clyde ’03” a record I hated at its release time, because 1) It had the audacity to take a favored Tupac song that was one of the best metaphorical tunes ‘Pac ever released and make it a straightforward rather unimaginative “love” song, and 2) Queen Bey had the audacity to throw in lyrics and melodies from Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend” at a time I was living by “Sign O’ The Times. Basically I was jealous they got to it first on that one.

I also got the chance to tell Rouse that his work on ‘Pac’s “Makaveli” album had a great impact on me, hearing the bass and guitar he laid on that album. On songs such as “Bomb First”, “Against all Odds”, “To Live and Die in L.A”, and especially “Just Like Daddy”, and “Life of an Outlaw”, Rouse laid down beats, bass lines, guitar parts, and other musical treats that expanded my perception of what could be done with live instruments in hip hop, two years before Outkast would come with “Aquemini” and contemporaneous to Outkast cuts like “Elevators.” Listening to those instruments in my AKG headphones late at night in East Oakland made me want to play music too! This interview will be aired Friday and can be seen around the world on http://www.vcat.tv!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, Appreciation, FUNK, Music Matters, Oakland-Bay Area

P-Funk is Hot : Go see ’em, A Merry Go Round Concert Review, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, 5/10/14 Yoshi’s San Francisco

George Clinton and the U.S Funk Mob are still on the road and their show is extremely tight and funky. I went down and inspected them for funkiness at Yoshi’s in San Francisco last night, and my clothes are so funky I’ll probably have to burn them. I’ve reviewed a P-Funk show on riquespeaks before, last year, and that review spoke to how funky, tight, and slick the band has been recently. The shows they gave this past week at Yoshi’s both met and exceeded the standards the Mob has been upholding the past five years or so.

Calvin caught the Friday night show, one I was unable to attend due to other commitments, and he basically made it a must that I catch this series of gigs. The band played one of my favorite P-Funk records of the 1980s that night, Xavier’s “Work that Sucker to Death.” That is a record I never thought I’d hear P-Funk perform. He also raved about the version of “Funkentelechy” he heard , as well as the way they approached the Parliaments first hit song, “Testify.” The impressive things were both the way George and the band were approaching their volumnious catalog, pulling goodies out of Dr. Funkenstein’s bag that go beyond the handful of huge hits everybody knows and loves, and also the fact they were performing them RIGHT. P-Funk’s recordings were highly sophisticated, multi tracked artifacts that featured multiple rhythmic lines, synthesizers, horns, multiple guitar tracks and male and female chorus style vocals. In short, they can be terribly hard to reproduce on stage. That might not matter to the casual fan, because no matter how big of a sucker you are, you will dance at a P-Funk show, any P-Funk show. But it does factor in for those of us who fell in love with the intracacies of P-Funk music through their major recordings. That was no problem at all at the gig I saw last night.

As per my usual M.O, Calvin and I caught the late show at Yoshi’s. I overheard the first show and the band was absolutely murdering another P-Funk classic I don’t often hear, 1978’s “Agua Boogie”. The opening act was George’s grandsons group. I didn’t quite understand the name of the band, but I know the leader is named Tracey Lewis Jr, his father being Treylewd, George’s son. The band consisted of Tracey, a drummer, a guitarist, a dude who seemed to control the sequences and loops, and a dude who sang and played the Digeredoo. Yes, he was on stage with a Digeredoo! He played it in a rhythmic manner that often augmented the drum beat. I actually thought the bands music was extremely good, they achieved a mix of head nodding, Timbaland style start and stop hip hop, mixed with instrumental funkiness and the unique rhythmic and melodic textures of the Digeredoo. Tracey Lewis rapping was also witty, fast paced, highly rhythmic, and well executed. I thought the bands presence spoke to George’s career long nurturing of innovation. The band had the Yoshi’s audience bopping and added a good hip hop flavor to the Funk that would come later.

P-Funk took the stage promptly and without hesitating launched into 1974’s “Cosmic Slop.” The song has always been one of my favorites, from the rock/funk main riff, to Gary Shider’s original falsetto vocals, to the touching ghetto story told through the lyrics. There was something about the song that hit me in particular last night, the terrifiying march of the riff conjuring up some feeling I hadn’t had in a long time. It was also deep to hear the lyric, “I can hear my mother call”, on a night that would move into Mother’s Day.

P Funk shows at Yoshi’s are fast paced affairs. Part of the fun is seeing how P Funk is going to squeeze their extra long uncut funk into Yoshi’s sleek and chic silk underwear. Somehow they manage to do it very well, while flashing voluptous grooves, round bass, and curfew testing song lengths. The very next song they eased into was the all time funk classic, “One Nation Under a Groove.” They began it in fine gospel style, with the keyboardist playing church style chords and Gary Shiders son, Garrett, engaging the audience in revival style call and response. I’ve seen numerous videos of the late great Gary Shider doing “One Nation”, often beginning with the question, “Is this One Nation?” Garrett does his daddy proud. The intro served to build the anticipation to such a level that when the songs gospeldelic funky bassline kicked in, it felt like an ice cream cone on a hot day in the Congo. The audience sang along en masse to one of my favorite P-Funk lyrics, “Ready or not/Here we come/getting down on/the One/which we believe in.”

The next song was “Flashlight.” That’s how fast P-Funk was moving last night. They went into a series of songs that I had yet to hear live. The heavy rock vibes of Funkadelic were represented by “Alice in My Fantasies” and “Red Hot Mama.” “Alice in My Fantasies” got the crowd up and rocking hard, as did “Red Hot Mama.” Ricky Rouse scorched the building with lead guitar soloing, full of feedback and power. “Red Hot Mama” ended with a super funky breakdown highlighting the songs chicken pecking ending rhythm guitar riff.

The Parliament side was well covered by “P-Funk Wants to Get Funked Up”, for which Foley joined the band on drums. Foley was in Miles Davis last bands as the “Lead Bassist”, for which he strung a guitar with bass strings. He has more recently joined P-Funk as a drummer, and he took over on “P-Funk’s” jazzy drum work. Of course, the whole audience was chanting “Make My Funk the P-Funk, I wants to get funked up!” Of course, from that, the California green began to be consumed even more copiously and George got in on the party, of course. George’s granddaughter Shonda came forward to do “Something Stank and I want some.” At that point, the show moved from James Brown tightness to ’60s rock band grooviness. The Mob moved from that to their mid ’00s record, “Hard as Steel (and still getting harder), which was backed with a thunderous riff that the whole band hit in unison, and was exactly as Viagra rigid as the lyrics promised.

Two of the ultimate Parliament records were played, one being “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker). Jeff “Cherokee” Bunn came up to play Bootsy’s classic bass line on that number, and then went into a bass solo that included quotations from Funkadelics classic “Cholly (Funk Getting Ready to Roll).

They also performed the ultimate Parliament record, the one that got it all started, “Testify”. “Testify” brought another kind of gospel, ’60s soul energy to the house that night. It was great to hear George sing it and to hear the band authentically nail such a mean ’60s soul groove, which is something I don’t get to hear live too often these days. It was motivation to break out my best Temptation walk. “Testify” might have been my high point of the night, for George’s impassioned vocal.

They ended of course with the largest hit of the P-Funk All Stars, “Atomic Dog”. All in all it was a great show that left me wanting more. P Funk’s current show is a show that is suitable both for Maggots, Freaks, Funkateers, and Virgins. The tight playing of the classic songs will impress somebody to whom you’ve bragged about how much they will enjoy P-Funk live, while the performing of songs such as “Alice in My Fantasies”, “Red Hot Mama”, and “Testify”, on any given night, will get the blood circulating in those who may have thought they’d lost that funky feeling. P Funk is on fire right now! Go see ’em!

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Filed under FUNK, Give me My Flowers While I'm Alive, Music Matters, Oakland-Bay Area

Mayer Hawthorne @ The Fox Theater 02-01-14: Merry Go Round Concert Review

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Mayer Hawthorne is one of those artists. A select and ever growing group of artists who’ve made sure you no longer hear, “there’s no good music out there anymore” out of my mouth. His blend of smooth vocals and toe tapping tunes provided by his band, “The County”, provide the type of music I’m looking for in 2014. Hawthorne is an artist I’ve enjoyed and kept my eye on for quite some time, and I’ve enjoyed his output, which up to now has been heavily flavored in his hometown, Detroit’s brand of soul. A favored genre of mine to be sure, but to misquote Burt Bacharach, “what the world needs now is funk.” Hawthorne’s most recent LP, “Where does this door go”, does not skimp on that, displaying Hawthorne’s mastery of hooks, melodies, and edgy romantic love stories against a classic yet bumpier, nottier, snappier, grittier contemporary funk sound, like the Temptations going from “My Girl” to “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” All of this set the stage for the perfect feel good musical event to start my concert going adventures in 2014 off properly.

My date and myself had two standing room only tickets to see Hawthorne at the Fox Theater on Telegraph. For those outside of the Bay Area, the Fox is one of those theaters that keep music flowing by providing a 2,000 to 5,000 capacity venue for artists large and small to perform. It’s beautiful antiquarian design and gilded edges always give me visions of James Brown, Sam Cooke, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Jackie Wilson, in all their soulful, chitlin circuit touring glories. And it’s comination of a seated balcony and an open dance floor make it perfect for what my friend Ron said was called in the ’60s, a “Show and Dance.”

Before we could get to enjoy the main event, we were treated to two opening acts. The first was by a young lady named Gavin Turek. Turek took the stage in a funky midriff baring ensemble with wild ringlets that kept tamborine like time as she whipped up her rew of dance/pop/funk magic. Her band was nice and her music had that funky, electronic, “Princely” vibe. All of that was set off by the fact that she’s a dynamic performer who matched funk with a series of Afrocentricly powerful, essence of femininity dance moves. Her vibe was so deep I feared we’d soon get rain in the building, or at least increase the population. She definitely made my list of artists to keep an eye on.

The next act was the Danish duo, Quadron. Their music was good as well, but you could tell their stock in trade seemed to be slower, mellow mood music that got hyped up when it hit the stage. I did enjoy their female vocalist, and she even did a cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex Factor”, off her classic “Miseducation” album. My date, Jazz, didn’t feel they did the song justice. All in all, their set was decent but it just made us anxious for the main attraction.

The stage had Hawthorne’s logo, a heart broken in two, with an “M” on one side and a “H” on the other. Hawthorne’s band, “The County”, came out in smart outfits, matching vests and slacks with open collared shirts, that really brought out that ’60s soul band vibe Hawthorne guns for. The bass player, Joe Abrams, and the guitarist Topher Mohr, did Earth, Wind & Fire styled routines as they ran the length of the stage switching positions. Hawthorne himself came out in a smartly tailored suit. From the moment he hit the stage, the crowd was involved, dancing and singing along with the show. It was no surprise that in the indie loving Bay Area, people knew all the words to the songs.

Hawthorne played a set that focused heavily on his current album, which he kept calling his “new” album, “Where Does This Door Go.” The band was super tight on the early 1980s easy listening rock/soul vibe of “Back Seat Lover.” “The Walk” from his 2011 album “How Do You Do” had a 1960s throwback vibe, but the bassline reminded me of Betty Wright’s “Tonight is the Night” in particular.

Hawthorne and his band gave us a number of hot joints from his album, “Allie Jones”, “The Innocent, and the thoughtful latin inflected funk/hip hop groove of “Wine Glass Woman” stuck out in particular, with it’s lyric that goes “I know what you’re drinkin love/Wonder what you’re thinking of.”

Hawthorne’s song “The Stars are Ours” was hard rocking, feautring a Nirvana intro. One of the songs that hit me the hardest personally, was the energetic “Peg” like groove of “Reach Out Richard”, mainly because it made me think of my own deceased father.

The Band used the classic soul trick of a fake ending before they came out to perform their encore. They hit us with one of my favorite songs in life for the encore, Barry White’s “Playing Your Game, Baby”, and the band sounded excellent, with Quentin Joseph on drums hitting the skins with the same power found on the original. I was impressed by the quality of the samples on Quincy McCrary’s keyboards, as they ably provided the Maestro’s powerful horn and string riffs. The band let the groove marinate in true Love Walrus fashion as well before Hawthorne sang the lyrics “When you give it up/it’s only enough to let me see/ooh wee/that you’re playing a game/it’s so plain!/you want me to wait.” I was truly in soul heaven for a brief moment.

Hawthorne closed the show out with a song I already feel is a classic, “Her Favorite Song”, the lead single from the “Where Does This Door Go” album. The song is a beautiful and funky tune about a woman who turns to music to overcome the disappoinments of life, love and work. It features a great structure, a heavy, rock hard hip hop/funk verse that represents the womans grind, and a free flowing, Afro-Latin, jazzy chorus with a Earth, Wind & Fire Brazillian styled vocalization signifiying the relrease she gets from her favorite song. The song typifies feel good music using the statement Art Blakey made for jazz, as something that “washes off the dust of every day life.” Hawthorne stretched out the ending refrain, “Got to shake it off”, encouraging everybody to shake off their own problems before they left that night. The song and that soulbiz gesture exemplify why I dig Hawthorne, he still seems to have that old school belief that “one thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” And I definitely didn’t feel any pain last Saturday night at the Fox.

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Cameo @ Yoshi’s 11/2/13: Merry Go Round Concert Review

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Cameo is very special to me among funk bands because for the most part, they defined what a funk band was for me in the 1980s. The other funk bands were around, but they were not quite at their commercial or artistic peaks at the time, and Michael Jackson and Prince were very funky, and they also had bands, but they were acclaimed mostly for their individual greatness. Cameo themselves used to be one of the large funk band with horns, but smartly reduced their lineup in the early ’80s to fit the streamlined image of the times. Their hit’s like “Candy” and “Word Up” just might be among the last hits of funk bands who started in the ’70s to do major damage on the pop and R&B charts.

Through the years I’ve caught bands at every oppurtunity, and some wear on better than others, very few had all original members, and many also got quite far away from the image a funk fan would pay to see as well. I remember when the cotton leisure suit seemed to be the standard uniform of all surviving bands. Cameo however, was an exception during this period, since the band had long since reduced itself to Larry Blackmon, Tomi Jenkins, Nathan Leftenant, Aaron Mills, and combinations of other sidemen who were excellent, such as Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Mofatt, a super talented New Orleans born drummer for The Jacksons and Michael Jackson’s personal drummer. They didn’t have the problems that other funk groups had, for instance, the dueling Ohio Players groups, or editions of Slave minus Drac, or Mr. Mark, or Steve Arrington. Cameo was always CAMEO, and you were sure to get a tight, well played set of their biggest hits. Not to mention Larry Blackmon was sure to wear his red codpiece, for those of you who’re into that. Cameo was a group that came out in the mid to late ’70s, so it’s members were a good deal younger than many other funk groups as well, all of which made them one of the safest tickets in modern funk.

So a couple of weeks ago, I was amped up to begin the lead in to my birthday with a show by Cameo at the Jack London Square Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland.
This was to be my first time seeing Cameo outside of large package tours with other groups, and they were coming on, as artists do at Yoshi’s, with no opening act, playing two sets a night. I’d heard when they played gigs at the old Kimball’s East in Emeryville, CA, they got deep into their catalog, playing the funk classics such as, “Ugly Ego”, “Be Yourself”, “Shake Your Pants”, and my favorite, from 1979’s “Secret Omen”, “I Just Want to Be.”

The group had already played that Wednesday at a special Halloween show attended by many of my friends. My homie DJ Spooky, Willie Adams handled the pre show musical duties, and a good deal of my friends showed up in costume, including my buddy Ron who stole the night in a dynamite Rick James costume. I didn’t make that show, but I rolled up to Yoshi’s to check out the next day of their Bay Area engagement on Saturday in the Town.

Cameo took the stage in their timely, no b.s, all funky business fashion and did not disappoint. They opened with the title track of their 1980 album, the anthemic, “Cameosis”, one of my favorite Cameo cuts. Being a song that bears the groups name, it’s an excellent intro as well. They played a truncated version of it on that night, but it got the Cameo fans going. On stage at this point were Tomi Jenkins on vocals, with Cameo vetrans holding down the guitar spots, Charlie Singleton, with his mask and cape, the vocalist on 1982’s “Be Yourself”, and Anthony Lockett, an original member who handled lead vocals on the classic Cameo ballad, “Sparkle.” Also on deck was one of my favorite bass players, Cameo’s long standing bassist Aaron Mills, who also played some great bassline’s behind Outkast in the ’00s, including the smash “Ms.Jackson.”

“Cameosis” was one I hadn’t had the privilege of hearing Cameo perform before. From that festive, funky introduction, they went into some of the hits that the crowd expected, and they didn’t disappoint. Larry Blackmon entered the stage, red codpiece glistening, to take us on a tour of Cameo’s mid ’80s peak. The band hit us back to back with three ’80s classics, “She’s Strange”, “Single Life”, and “Attack Me With Your Love.” All three were very well recieved by the audeince, and I found myself singing them word for word as well. “Single Life” was very special because they found time for a monster drum solo, which even caused me to say to myself, “Dang…dude is coming with a little bit EXTRA on that funk.” Of course, they introduced their drummer Dante as being from Oakland a little while later.

Anthony Lockett, original Cameo member, got a chance to step forward and shine on “Sparkle” from 1979’s “Secret Omen”, and it acted as a sonic viagra to the couples in the audience, or the soon to be. To demonstrate how tight and action packed a set at Yoshi’s can be, they moved right into the sweet funk of “Candy”. “Candy” is a fresh, funky, sweet song that has become even more and more of an anthem as the years have passed on. It was huge when it was out, featuring a very unique music video, but it’s become truly, one of the defining songs of it’s time in the years since that, with thanks to the 1999 film “The Best Man” for using it in it’s famous electric slide line sequence.

The band next went into a package of pure, uncut, wicked funk, starting with my favorite, 1979’s “I Just Want to Be.” “I Just Want to Be” is a one of a kind funky record, tense, tight, with a nasty bass line, cutting guitars, and freaky high pitched vocals. Of course, it gave me a chance to give my shoes a good breaking in. They followed with the funk classic “Flirt”. Larry spoke to the audience about the song that became their first gold record, which they had to insert back into the show, a little funk ditty called, “Shake Your Pants”, which got the Bay Area crowd up and doing just that.

The guys finished the show with the classic, funk in the face of the hip hop era, “Word Up.” I got down with them for a while, before I had to rush accross the bridge to the next party. I definitely enjoyed Cameo, their funk was sharp and proffesional, and they had the unenviable task of culling a set list from 35 years of hits. The one thing I’d like to hear the next time I see Cameo however, is a few more of the early funk hits. A little bit of “It’s Serious”, “Ugly Ego”, “Still Feels Good to Me”, “Rigor Mortis”, or “Enjoy Your Life”, would be right up my funky alley. However, I can still recommend Cameo with no reservations, as one of the funkiest groups from the old Kingdom still funkin’.

For Those Who don’t believe this review:

Set List

1. Cameosis
2. She’s Strange
3. Single Life
4. Attack Me With Your Love
5. Why Have I Lost You?
6. You’re a Winner
7. Sparkle
8. Candy
9. I Just Want to Be
9. Keep it Hot
10. Flirt
11. Shake Your Pants
12. Word Up

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Quick Thoughts on the Raiders Season Opener

I must admit, I saw certain things in the preseason that almost made me sorry I put out a hopeful preview of the Raiders 2013 season. Granted, the Raiders undertook a massive bloodletting and subsequent reshaping of the roster, feilding a defense with 10 new starters in particular. Most “experts” were therefore down on the Raiders chances to compete this season. Never mind the fact it was obvious serious change was necessary. The defense has a completely new face, but the facts are, it needed it. The defense has been atrocious against the run for years and following the loss of Nnamdi Asomaguah for the planned “Dream Team” in Philadelphia, the pass defense became atrocious too.

No matter, I really liked the moves that Reggie McKenzie made this offseason. Some of them turned out to be duds, such as the draft pick spent on Tyler Wilson, and the draft picks traded for Matt Flynn, however, those hold some value as well, as Matt Flynn at the very least makes a good backup. The draft yeilded at least three potential starters, in CB D.J Hayden, OLB Sio Moore, and Tackle Menelik Watson. The linebacking corp is totally new, and so is the starting defensive backfield. The offensive line was rendered patchwork by the loss of LT Jared Veldheer.

Beating up on the Raiders is all too easy to do, but I look at the Raiders and see a team that is positioning itself to compete with the best. I like the moves it took to stregthen it’s coaching staff, as well as the total restructure of the defense.

But football these days is all about the quarterback, and that was the biggest area of concern for many. It was clear from the preseason that Matt Flynn would not be able to survive and be effective as a drop back passer behind a make shift offensive line, so Terelle Pryor was tapped to start. Three years ago, in the last season of Al Davis, I thought the Terelle Pryor draft pick was a good pick. At that time, I thought the Raiders team had a lot of promise but would ultimately need a more explosive quarterback than the successfull but pedestrian Jason Campbell. The Raiders underwent much upheavel since then, firing coaches and bringing in other quarterbacks, but Pryor stayed there working on his game. He was finally rewarded yesterday, being handed the keys to the car for the second time since arriving in 2011.

Pryor played a very good game yesterday. Point blank, mistakes aside, he moved the ball, both in the air and with his feet. He made several good decisions, and some poor ones that were rather costly too. But at every step of the way, he made plays to put the Raiders in position to win, rallying back in the final minutes of the game. It’s true opponents will be gearing up to stop him, but hopefully that will open up things for the other skill position players.

The defense had serious problems containing the short passing game of Andrew Luck and Indy early, but solidified itself later. Blitzes were a big part of getting pressure on Luck. There were several that did not get home, but the Raiders were serious about sending linebackers and defensive backs after the quarterback. All in all, the Raiders were able to hold Indy to 21 points, which is much lower than anybody thought the explosive Indianappolis offense would score.

So even though the Raiders lost, they did set the stage for a most interesting season of growth. If they learn and tighten things up from this week, they’ll be a very exciting team to watch on offense and a team that can make big plays and get key stops on defense. I hope they blow up all this foolishness in the media about a 1-15 season and an 0-16 season and finish somewhere in the respectable mediocre range of 6-10, 7-9. Some fans wish the Raiders could tank to draft Jedvon Clowney, but I’d rather see steady improvement, a draft of several starter caliber players, and some key free agent signings with the surplus of cap room that will become avaliable next years. And then, we might get to see a return of the “greatness of the Raiders.”
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