Tag Archives: Oakland

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

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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Filed under Appreciation, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Oakland-Bay Area

Concert Notes: George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Yoshi’s 3/29/13

If you’re a funkateer of any stripe, it’s a rite of passage to see George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic live. No matter how much bad press you may hear about the sloppiness of the band, or how the songs drag on too slowly, or that some of George’s uncut funk might could use a little trimming, there is no substitute to stomping your feet and shaking your ass real time with the U.S Funk Mob.

The desire to be a part of the P-Funk live experience is one that was passed down, like an appreciation of fine wines, from my elders. Being in attendance at the original arrival of the mothership is a generation marker for many akin to “where were you when Kennedy was shot?” The Bay Area, like Los Angeles, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, New Jersey, and especially Washington D.C, is one of the true P-Funk strongholds in this country. Part of P-Funk’s legendary, “P-Funk Earth Tour” LP was recorded at the Oakland Coliseum, on which the late Glen Goins can be heard intoning “Oakland, do you want to ride?” There’s also the tale of a lineup at the Oakland Coliseum, an outdoor funk fest that featured the Bar Kays, Cameo (in the year they released “I Just Want to Be”), our own local heroes Con Funk Shun, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and Parliament Funkadelic.

As with any “legendary” musical group, it can be hard to live up to this type of legacy. The first time I saw P-Funk in 2005, I must admit I was disapointed. I caught them at the Filmore, in San Francisco. That year was supposed to be a big year in P-Funk history, some sort of anniversary. I remember it was special because Bootsy Collins actually was with the group on that tour. Bootsy came out with a thunderous version of “Up for the Down Stroke.” Leaning on the Filmore’s history as a legendary rock venue, the band leaned heavily on Funkadelic’s rock side that night. Something about that gig just didn’t do it for me though. I had a good time, but the experience couldn’t quite live up to my bootleg tapes of all those old tours.

Then in 2011, I saw Bootsy Collins perform a set with his band for the first time. That show really rekindled my desire to feel P-Funk live, for the simple fact that it was very tight and delivered P-Funk and Bootsy classics with as much or more vitality than the recorded versions. Songs like “Flashlight” and “One Nation” were done in a better fashion for me than they were done at the earlier P-Funk show I’d seen because they were done with the new Mini Moog Voyager keyboard and at a tempo that was very close to the tempo’s they were recorded with.

A few months after that, around Independence Day of that year, I had the chance to see P-Funk at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland. The funk was right this time. George Clinton had unveiled a new image, in slick suits, with his hair laid down in coal black waves. It was reminiscent of the bands genesis as the Parliaments, and also an image George had adopted around 1980, during the “Trombipulation” album. George Clinton has always maintained his roots as a barber/hair stylist inform his attitude of musical styles, that a change in musical styles can be as simple as changing your hair do and clothes. This was true when Parliament was a doo-wop, soul, Temptations styled group and had to change clothes to get into the hippie, mod, phsychedelic music of Funkadelic, and the freaked out arena Funk vibe of the glory years.

Well, George’s new doo review proved to be a super tight one. That particular night they opened with “Funkentelechy”, with the bass player totally nailing one of my favorite bass lines of all time. Hits like “Atomic Dog”, “Flashlight”, and “One Nation”, were laid down with an accuracy that was felt by heads, hearts, hips, and feet.

So it was on and crackin from then. I resolved I’d see P-Funk every chance I got, and enjoy this national treasure while we still have it. With that in mind, me and my running partner Kenny Route hit Yoshi’s up last Friday night. I was mad I missed the last P-Funk show in the Bay Area, about four or five months ago, mainly because two of my homegirls, Angelina and Gi Gi got to dance on stage with George Clinton during “Atomic Dog” in a momment that is preserved for posterity on YouTube. It was dope to see two of my favorite ladies getting down with one of my favorite dudes, George Clinton!

Kenny Route chose to see Earth, Wind & Fire instead of P-Funk back in the ’70s, and he said the EWF show was great, but he always missed out on seeing P-Funk with all his relatives and friends. I always feel like in a way that might be a blessing too, because as bad as P-Funk was in 1977, great songs like “Atomic Dog”, “Aqua Boogie”, “(Not Just) Knee Deep”, and “One Nation Under a Groove”, were yet to come. There is something special about catching a musical group when the bulk of their legacy has already been done. It’s almost like hearing/seeing/feeling your whole life in one night.

The show was opened in Funkadelic mode with the throbbing, pounding, bluesy, soulful field holler for peace, “Me and My Folks”, from 1971’s “Maggot Brain” LP. “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”, the P-Funk chorus moaned as the drummer whopped the audience upside their complacency witha rock hard beat, with a bass jam spread on top of it like beddings in a hospital. This is one of my favorite deep cuts and one I never thought I’d hear live, and even though all of the audience might not have been familiar with it, it was the perfect intro to the concept of “one nation under a groove.”

The Mob let the first song draw out until all the soul that could be had was had, and then funked on to “The Goose”, from 1974’s “Up for the Down Stroke.” That LP was one of the first P-Funk albums I ever bought, on tape, from the old Leopold’s records in Berkeley. My friend Calvin was juiced because it’s a P-Funk record from the catalog you don’t hear often. The groove was mesmerizing as blunts were passed all through the audience, and by the end of the song, the P-Funk horn players Bennie Cowan and Greg Thomas were inserting the riffs frrom Al Green’s “Love and Happiness”, which was one of a few Al Green/Memphis themes introduced by P-Funk on that night. The chant from Bootsy Collins’ “The Pinnochio Theory” found it’s way into the end of the song too, which gave Robert “P-Nut” Johnson, one of Bootsy’s singers who was present on this night, a chance to shine. P-Funk also found ways to squeeze in the chants to “Unfunky UFO” and “Up for the Down Stroke” as well.

The way George does his show now reminds me of Chuck Brown and D.C go-go music. Many people wonder what George’s contribution to P-Funk was in a musical sense, but he is one of the most phenomenal creators of phrases, lyrics, and hooks in American music. There are so many chants and catchphrases, they could never perform them all as songs in their entirety. So, they go the route of Chuck Brown, playing the same beat and layering various chants and choruses from the P-Funk song book over whatever beat is going. It got me fired up just to hear these bits and pieces of songs over a funky beat, much more so than to hear bits and pieces of songs in the manner of say, James Brown’s concert medly’s.

They bumped right up on from that into “Flashlight.” Calvin let me know it was going o be a shorter show for real if they were going into that, and in reality, not counting the bits and pieces of all the chants, P-Funk only did 10 songs that night. And only 8 were actual P-Funk songs. I did understand it was the third night of a three night engagement, and at 72, you might not gain strength on your third day, but George Clinton was by no means a weak link, as he had a truckload of energy on that night. “Flashlight” came off hard, as the keyboardist used the Minimoog Voyager synthesizer, a recent version of the keyboard the original “Flashlight” was recorded on, to play Bernie Worrell’s famous bassline. That was interesting because even in the classic years after “Flashlight” came out, P-Funk usually used a live bassist to play the bassline. On this night however, the bass was played by the keyboardist and Jeff “Cherokee” Bunn, bass player for the Brides of Funkenstien, augmented the bass line with his bass guitar.

The P-Funk horns included one of my absolute favorite horn riffs into the coda to “Flashlight”, Eddie Harris jazz classic, “Freedom Jazz Dance”, recorded by such people as Miles Davis, Charles Earland, and Brian Auger.

P-Funk is well aware of the bad rap they’ve gotten from time to time, because Clip Payne at one point announced “Ya’ll were expecting to see some old guy in a Mu-Mu with some multicolored dreads weren’t you?” Which spoke volumes to people expecting the image and shows George gave us in the ’90s shows. But this was not that, this was real true blue P-Funk brought by a group of talented men and women who know what their funkateers epect of them.

The next day, Calvin and myself went to the hotel where P-Funk was staying to interview Jeff “Cherokee Bunn.” “Cherokee” was really deep, really spiritual, and very welcoming as well. I also got to shyly/slyly say “hi” to fine miss Kendra Foster, but that’s neither here nor there, we got a great interview with Cherokee that will be in a future post. As a coincidence, the hotel they were staying at was within eyesight of the Oakland Coliseum, site of many P-Funk triumphs in the past. They may no longer be rocking Coliseums and Arena’s like that, but their funk is back streamlined and arena sized for sure.

Last December at Yoshi’s SF, my friend Angelina dancing with George, and my friend Gi-Gi dancing with Sir Nose, captured by Evol Knight

Video I recorded last Friday, Greg Thomas leading the crowd in th scat solo on “(Not Just) Knee Deep”

P-Funk doing “The Goose” at Yoshi’s

Soulschool interview Calvin Lincoln did with Greg Thomas of P-Funk

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Robert Glasper brings “Black Radio” back to Oakland!

One of my favorite things to do is to get out, see, hear and feel, live music, and I had my first chance to do that a few weeks back, when the Robert Glasper Expiriment came through The New Parish in Oakland, California. I couldn’t have had a better group to get my feet wet with.

Glasper is an artist I’ve been following for some time. Him and his group are currently riding high after taking home the Grammy for Best R&B album. Every now and then the NARAS people give the award to somebody based on the quality of their music and tries to make a stand for music that’s not 100% image based. In Glaspers case, when I told most people around me who I was going to see, their response was, “who.” Glasper is getting a great write up in various music media outlets and among a certain type of “neo-soul”, “conscious hip hop”, jazz interested crowd, but not much noise outside of that group. Our local R&B station, KBLX, used to feature a quiet storm format that included classic soul, funk, and disco, and lots of urban adult contemporary music. I mean, this station was huge on Sade, Anita Baker, Luther Vandross, Jefferey Osbourne, Frankie Beverley and Maze, the Whispers, Grover Washington Jr, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Waymon Tisdale, and others of that ilk. They wouldn’t play “All Night Long” too much, but they would sure enough rock “Love Will Find a Way.”

It was also a great place to find out about smooth jazz type recordings. I know smooth jazz is anathema to most people (myself included), but I remember my dad purchasing some great albums based on KBLX airplay back in the ’90s. Albums by Randy Crawford, Joe Sample, the Crusaders, George Duke, Craig T Cooper and many others. KBLX was the station that played Hidden Beach’s “Unwrapped” jazz hip hop fusions back in the ’00s. In the early ’90s they played Miles Davis “Doo Bop” LP. “Unwrapped” didn’t get any play on the local hip hop stations, even though it was versions of hip hop songs that particular album featured. Point is, the old KBLX would have been the perfect showcase for “Afro Blue”, “Gonna Be Alright”, “Cherish the Day”, almost any track on Glasper’s “Black Radio” LP. Glasper’s LP is part of a long tradition of jazzy music based on sophisticated R&B songs.

Glasper was born in Houston, Texas, just like those other heroes of Jazz fusion, the (Jazz) Crusaders. He also went to school with Mrs. Knowles-Carter herself, that force of nature known as Beyonce. He’s always been a straight ahead jazz pianist but he’s also put in a lot of work in the hip hop scene, being an associate of Bilal and working with acts such as Common, Maxwell, and Mos Def.

His “Black Radio” LP is exactly the type of LP that makes me wish my father was alive. Pops was a hardcore jazz man of a Hard Bop bent, a big fan of Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Miles, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Dizzy Gillespie and others with that modern jazz bent. But he also was a huge fan of blusier artists such as the Crusaders, Stanley Turrentine, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderly, and Jimmy Smith. Glasper builds up a new brand of “jazz fusion”, based in the chill out tones of “neo-soul” and jazz influenced hip hop (A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, the Philadelphia Sound, Erykah Badu). The result is kind of on the mellow side, but the music has a strong groove that pulls you in, in the vein of Sade.

The New Parish, in the DTO (DownTown Oakland) was the perfect venue to see Glasper and his group in. The New Parish building was formerly the site of a somewhat notorious club in Oakland called Sweet Jimmie’s. Sweet Jimmie’s was known in my time for being a club that older people frequented that would play soul, funk, jazz, disco, and for having a regular TV program that broadcast on local low budjet, public access cable station known as SoulBeat. Every weekend you could turn on your TV and see older folks getting down at Sweet Jimmies and lip synching to soul hits. I watched this all through my teenage years on TV, but I didn’t dare step foot in Jimmie’s when I came of age. Although in the early ’00s it became popular with young folks, which eventually led to it’s demise as an institution.

As I qued in line to enter the venue, I thought of this history. It trips me out to be standing in line with a multiracial group of individuals waiting to go into The New Parish and vibe on some world class music. In many ways, it’s still Sweet Jimmie’s to me, but then again it isn’t, because although I was seriously familiar with Jimmie’s, I never went in when it was cracking. So the Parish is a new thing for me. It’s a great, intimate, large club type concert setting, the type of place where the artists are walking around in the courtyard before the show (which Glasper did). The venue has a great open air courtyard where one can sit outside, sip on their libation of choice, toke on their smoke of choice, and take in the vibes of the music.

I had one of my OG buddies with me, Ken, and he’d frequented Jimmie’s several times and couldn’t believe the changes the venue had undergone. Most times myself and my peers try to tell some of the older folks about the changes DTO has undergone and the active social life that exists there currently, (relatively) drama free. They usually come away with a mixture of amazement at the changes and mixed emotions over gentrification. But besides all that, they generally have a good time!

Oakland’s own Kev Choice opened the show up. Kev had a band that featured, in addition to bass, drums, guitar, and himself on keys, a young lady on violin. Kev is a major musician who has worked with people like Lauryn Hill and Too Short and continues to call the Bay Area home.  The band was tight, he played keyboards well, and he also impressed me by rapping, both from behind the keyboards, and from the front man position, center stage. I have seen the Kev Choice Ensemble open up for several top notch groups at the New Parish and I enjoyed them more on this particular night than ever before, and I always enjoy them, I especiallydug the textures the violinist brought to the heavy hip hop/funk beats and the thick harmonic wall.

Glaspers album was heavy on great cameo’s, it was almost like a Quincy Jones album for the Neo-Soul movement. Erykah Badu, Lalah Hathaway, Lupe Fiasco, Bilal, Ledisi, Musiq Soulchild, Chrisette Michelle, Meschell N’degeocello, Stokely Williams, and Yalsin Bey (aka Mos Def) made the album flow like The Dude, or Back on the Block, or Sounds…and Stuff Like That.

At this particular date, he had Mr. Cory Benjamin with him as his front man. Benjamin is an excellent performer who wears a unique hairstyle of dreadlocks that rise from his head in a regal pompadour. On this nite he sang through a vocoder to handle the vocals on songs like “Afro Blue” and “Cherish the Day.” His vocoder singing was not like the guitar controlled talk box of Roger Troutman, but more in line with the emotional keyboard vocal tones Herbie Hancock used on songs such as “I thought it was You”, and he especially reminde me of Herbie’s  “Come Running to Me”.  This Herbie influenced vibe especially fit in well with Glaspers Fender Rhodes toned comping. Benjamin did whip out his saxophone once to do some fluent bop jazz type soloing.

The vocoder vocals of Mr. Benjamin, Glaspers unique Fender Rhodes textures, and the whip tight rhythm section, all conspired to cast a hypnotizing spell over Oakland that night. At one point Glasper told us it was the first concert since winning the Grammy and that he was celebrating it with Oakland. Then he asked for three vodka cranberry’s. I felt of the moment because that was also what I was drinking (in moderation) that night.

They finnished the evening with one of my favorite songs on the album, “Oh Yeah”, which features the lyrics “cause I’ve learned in this life/you’ve gotta be with someone you like.” Words to go home on for real.

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Filed under All That Jazz, Music Matters

Whispers UnSung: Quick Thoughts


whisperslp
Last weeks UnSung episode featuring the mighty Whispers was one of my favorite yet, and I must admit, it’s mostly a Bay thang. There have been several Bay Area based episodes on UnSung, including the Sly Stone episode, Shiela E, and the great Con Funk Shun episode. The Whispers show both shed some light on the SuperFly atmosphere of Oakland in the 1970s and also impressed me with the story of a musical group that was hardworking, talented, loyal to one another and truly worthy of all the props we could give them for hanging in the music business for fifty years.

Finally, the Whispers origins were clarified to the satisfaction of this Oakland based blogger. I’d heard some things about the Whispers being from LA. and other reports about them being from the Bay. Several friends of mine recall seeing them perform during their high school years at various now defunct Bay Area nightclubs. Turns out Walter and Scotty were born in Houston and raised in Los Angeles, which is where the group came together. However, they were adopted so well by audiences in the Bay Area that they decided to make that their home base. I’ve heard many things about how the Bay Area of that time had a very strong performance circuit, that was able to sustain several groups, such as the Ballads, Eugene Blacknell, and the Natural Four. It was also revealed in this episode that the Pimps and Players of Oakland were one of the Whispers primary fan bases. That revelation was very interesting to me because of Oakland’s history as a city where the pimping game was very strong, an example of that being 1973’s The Mack. The thing that made that film notable is it was in part financed by the Ward Brothers and feature

many real life participants in that life.

The Whispers performed throughout the ’70s, being a very well respected group for both their vocals and their stage show, but never quite getting that big break. I found out more about the group in the last decade when I began purchasing episodes of Don Cornelius’ Soul Train. I’d buy episodes for groups who I’d never seen footage of at the time, like the Crusaders, or Mandrill, or Marvin Gaye, and lo and behold, the Whispers would always be on the same episode. I was impressed by their moves, their songs, and the rapport they had with Don Cornelius. If you watch episodes of Soul Train hosted by Don Cornelius, you’ll see there were certain artists he had a special rapport with, such as Rick James, or the O’Jays. The Whispers were one of those groups, and the Soul Train program gave them exposure even before they had that huge hit record.

It was on one of those episodes I encountered the early song “Seems like I gotta do wrong for someone to notice me”, which was a very poignant song for me. It could be applied many ways, but it makes me think especially of our current news culture and the amount of attention given to people who act outrageously.

Another song that was featured in the episode was  “(Olivia) Lost and Turned Out.” This is a song I only became familiar with a few years ago, when our local “Quiet Storm” station, KBLX, put it back into rotation. I was shocked by the story, and the lyrics, “he wants to buy a new Seville.” The group memebers talked about this song and mentioned the songwriters niece had been turned out by some pimps and the song was his effort to speak to her and get her to leave “the life.”  It didn’t please their fan base, but the song did become a hit on the charts.

The show glided right into their ’80s success with “And the Beat Goes On”, and of course “Rock Steady” and “It Just Gets Better With Time.” “Rock Steady” is probably the song I first got familiar with the group with in the late ’80s, while “It Just Gets Better With Time” is one of the ultimate California cruising songs.

The most impressive aspect of the show to me however, was the loyalty exhibited by the group. Several group members had serious problems, from incarceration, to inability to perform due to drugs. But the group made sure they continued to recieve a salary all the time they dealt with those issues and received them back into the group when they got over them. This was very impressive in light of some of the implosions witnessed among other groups. It reminded me of the Ohio Players equal sharing of credit for all the songs they wrote.

At the end of the day the episode made a fine case for why the Whispers seem to hold the special place in the hearts of their fans. It was funny to me that the Whispers and Frankie Beverley and Maze, though not outselling groups like the Temptations, Earth, Wind & Fire, and many other groups, were able to consistently tour and draw seriously passionate fan bases, years after their hey day. In fact, they seemed even more vital than the groups who outsold them years ago. I’m not sure we can truly ever answer that, but for me, it has something to do with the loyalty the Whispers showed to their talents, their band mates, and their fans. When you do that, you just get better with time.

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Filed under Appreciation, Music Matters, Oakland-Bay Area

Anticipating Robert Greene’s “Mastery”

Something that interests me very much is the existence and dissemination of reading materials that would be both interesting and mentally stimulating to young urban males who are either younger than college age, have not attended college, do not plan to attend college, or who’s circumstances would not allow them to. These types of books have always had a great potential to increase general knowledge, literacy, and help young men make better choices. I’ve always gotten a charge out of seeing a young man find a book that he feels finally explains things that he has percieved but did not understand the structure of, in a way that is both intellectually rigourous, but spoken in a language that is based on the on the ground, int the street realities of living in America (and around the globe, but America in particular). It’s amazing to see these books take root and spark a desire to learn more, although sometimes it can be sad as well when you see these people wish they’d been turned on to knowledge sooner.

Young men might find out about these books in the places they frequent, and from friends who they trust. Many times they have a friend who is a well respected memeber of their peer group, and is seen as having done the same things they have and been through the same struggle, but is also well known for being intellectual and a reader and student. Somehow, someway, a morsel of info catches the persons ear and makes them say, “I want to read that!” Sometimes, if it’s the right book, it captures what Miles Davis called, the feeling of, “turning on the lights in the room for the first time.”

I personally learned about this type of book from books that were on my fathers volumnous bookshelf that I learned were ridely read in black communities across the U.S and extending overseas, among young men in the 1960s, ’70s, and even stretching into the ’80s, and early ’90s. The Black Panthers probably epitomized this and made many books popular through their Political Education (P.E) classes, the organization itself was nourished by this tradition of extra curricular reading. Malcom X was inspired to read everything he could during his prison conversion to Islam, even going so far as to read the entire dictionary! When asked once as a Muslim minister what University he attended, he replied, “Books.” In turn,  Malcom X’s autobiography written in collaboration with Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcom X became a prime example of the type of book I’m talking about in this post.

During the consciousness revolution of the 1960s, there were many young titles that a young black man in particular might discover through word of mouth. The Autobiography of Malcom X, Eldgrige Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, Iceberg Slim’s Pimp: The Story of My Life, Donald Goines’ Whoreson, The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon, Die Nigger Die! by H.Rap Brown, Das Kapital, by Karl Marx, Message to the Blackman and How to Eat to Live, by the Honorable Elijah Muhammed, Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude McKay, and books by Richard Wright are all books read by many on various paths to self education.

This tradition reached the very young (at the time) practitioners of hip hop. The great, articulate M.C’s who influenced my thinking, such as KRS One and Chuck D, read all these books and then some, which provided the content for their music. KRS was a homeless audodidact who studied everything he could get his hands on, wheereas Chuck D graduated from college, but you still get the feeling his thirst for knowledge was developed in his community way before he set foot at the campus of Adelphi University.

In turn, I think books by hip hop authors such as KRS One’s, The Gospel of Hip Hop, and Ice T’s, The Ice Opinion, carry on that tradition and should be on an updated list. Tupac Shakur was also influenced by this traditon of reading for ones self and ones circumstances, just as the Chuck D’s and KRS-One’s, and his began very early, as his mother was a Black Panther and he was exposed to self education from an early age (also failing to finish high school as KRS-One).

Tupac contributed much to the continuation of this tradition and the reason I got interested in Robert Greene, when his readings inspired him to adopt a rap name sepereate from his perfect for an entertainer (just like Prince Rodgers Nelson) first name, Makaveli, taken from the Philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, who penned the classic tome of how to gain, keep and expand power, The Prince. I can recall how ‘Pac got my peer group talking about this book, one of the foundations of westren philosophy, because he overstood what Machiavelli was talking about would have a wide resonance in the inner city communities where people feel they lack power and are struggling to expand their resources.

Around 2000, watching a documentary called, Pimpology: Uncut produced by the always entertaining, “Pimpin” Ken Ivey, I was exposed to Robert Greene’s, The 48 Laws of Power. As a person who’s always been interested, in a very early age at how political and social power is gained and lost, the book quickly made me a fan. The other thing that appealed to me, as a young man who grew up in a heavily religous environment, extracting salvation info from the age old stories in the Bible, as well as a lover of history, was Robert Greene’s use of his degree in classical literature. When I was a kid and told my older brother I liked history, he told me, “what you gonna do with that.” At the time the question hurt, but it was very true. Robert Greene took his degree in classical literature and made use of it, by studying how people have increased or lost their power over the years and providing historical interpetations to back it up. I became a witness for this book, telling many associates about it, and enjoying conversations based on its principles when they purchased it. Whether we became rich and powerful is unimportant. What is important is it gave us some objective examples with which to analyze life and view events, and that strong type of frame work ususally provides for some measure of what we call success in life.

When I tried to convert my sister to this new religion of Robert Greeneism, she wold have none of it, telling me, “I’m only interested in having power over myself.” Robert Greene would most likely tell me those who claim not to want power are usually the most desperate power seekers of all, but I’ll give my sis a pass (hope you’re reading this P, love u). Interestingly enough, that is the path this new Robert Greene book, Mastery, seems to be going down. Greene’s last book, The 50th Law, dealt with developing a success oriented mentality and leapfrogging over the social complacency that would prevent an individual from becoming succesful. This book was inspired by and co written with 50 Cent. This is another example of how Robert Greene is ahead of many other content producers in our day and age, unlike Cristal and Tommy Hilfigger, who made it clear their urban audiences were questionable ghetto gravy on top of their continental European, All American mashed potatoes, Greene embraced his urban audience when he found out his books were highly read in the urban world. And who better to do a book based on the hip hop model of success with than 50 Cent? I can’t think of an MC who’s rise personally offended me more than 50 Cent, and it was based on his relentless thirst for combat with M.C’s, a tearing down of the old order to make a place for himself that Greene advises in several of his books.

This new book however, Mastery, purports to tell us how to master ourselves so that we can master things in the physical world to make our way to success easier. In all actuality, all of Greene’s books had elements of self control and mastery in them, even in the hustles they ran on other people. But this book seems to expand on some concepts found in The 50th Law, where Greene mentioned that the talent of sitting down with something and mastering it, is very much endangered in our modern smart phone, twittering, get your ass beat and it’s on YouTube a minute later society. But in order to be successful, we still must sit down and master ourselves and master our hobbies, careers, and work.

I remember my father, born in the depression in 1931, and many of his peer group that I grew up around in Oakland, used to tell us when we were enjoying the talents of somebody else, we were enjoying their hard work, but we needed to do ours. I thought it some old cruel black talk back then, but it’s become music to my ears more and more. My bumbling efforts at bass playing and writing are two testaments to the victories time wasters have won over me!!! So I welcome Greene’s new book as a chance to rediscover how to sit down, be quiet, work, and conquer myself and the world in the process.

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“Stay in Your Lane”: Off the Dome,no Notes review: Wreck it, Ralph

Pixellated Rique outside Metreon Bus Stop

Rique in Video game form

Yesterday was my first day out and about since I got back from Paris, the time change and jet lag, mixed with the furious effort to get out of Paris before Hurricane Sandy hit, left me in a horizontal haze. I made up my mind I’d get out of the house to check out a movie, and out of all the films that appealed to me, me and my homeboy Frank decided on “Wreck-It, Ralph”. 

The movie is a fresh, inventive take on the classic Disney theme of self love and acceptance. The story centers on the fable of a video game villian, “Wreck It Ralph”, from an early wave ’80s coin op, “Fix it Felix”. Ralph is the “villian” of the game, but contrasting early video games with modern games, Ralph does not per se inflict very much harm on the other characters in the game, he simply wrecks things, which isn’t really so bad when you consider that without his wreckage, the hero of the game, “Fix it Felix Jr”, wouldn’t be able to come in and practice his hammering alchemy.

The film follows the lead of films such as “Toy Story” and “Shrek”, in going into the lives of childrens playthings, anthropomorphizing them to show a rich inner life after the children have stopped playing with them. In this case, the video game characters all leave their respective games to hang out in “Game Central Station.” After work however, the same relationship heirarchy that exists in the games exists in their after work lives, with “good” characters associating with each other and villians getting together in group therapy meetings to affirm their villany so they can keep up the bad work.

Ralph is depicted as a “villian” with heart, in reality just a large man with large hands who is misunderstood. When the 30th anniversary of his game comes, he finds himself and uninvited and unwelcome guest at the anniversary party of the games protagonists. When he finally gets in, he finds himself depicted on the cake with a mean snarl, as if he actually does his acts of wreckery out of malice instead of that being his function in the game. His co characters fail to realize that Ralph is just doing his job and there would be no game without Ralph.

Ralph then goes on a quest for heroism in order to be accepted in his own game, which leads him to other games. His first stop is an ultra modern first person shooter entitled “Hero’s Duty.” Old school 8 bit Ralph, use to moving on a single screen, is totally intimidated by the ultra modern, omni directional first person shooter. The climax of the movie however, occurs in a Japanese style, younger kids racing game entitled “Sugar Rush”, where Ralph meets his true friend and agent of change, Vanellope Von Schweetz.

As Ralph goes on this journey however, he’s missing from his game and his counterparts in his video game recognize exactly how important he was, without Ralph the game is in danger of being shut down. Ralph ultimately triumphs through self acceptance, it’s not in the cards for him to magically become a good guy, and he does not at the end of the movie. He remains good ol “Wreck It, Ralph”, as ham handed as ever. But that’s what he’s suited to do. This movie is a good example of the adage, “stay in your lane.” What changes is not Ralphs role in the video game, but the appreciation he gains through his comrades understanding that without him, there is no game, and his role is of central importance to the success of their game.

Along the way he’s taught this in part by Vanellope Von Schwertz, the hero of “Sugar Rush”, wrongly dethroned by the villanous Turbo, masquerading as “King Candy.” Turbo was an early video game hero who could not adjust to his new role as new games took over. Vanellope chooses to retain her “glitch” even after she defeats it because it gives her character, individuality and special abilities, a clear message for the kids (and adults) in a world of conformity on various levels.

The film also offers some mild commentary on the more violent video games of today. Seargent Calhoun, the shapely ball busting leader of the heroes on “Hero’s Duty”, is shown to be in need of a hug more than anything (a character confides of her, “she was programmed with the most tragic backstory ever) and is mellowed out by a marraige to the corny, goofy, but sincere 8 bit character “Fix it Felix”, who I’m sure will take his magical hammer to her nightly. In the end the old 8 bit game becomes a revived hit after the calamity that almost destroys the whole arcade and everybody learns to respect each others roles, in what actually is one of the more realistic “happily ever afters” I’ve seen on the screen.

All in all this is a very fun movie with a very good message, not asking us to magically become princes (or frogs) after being kissed, but to accept oneself and to accept the contributions of others for what they do to keep the whole thing running, whether they are pleasant roles or not. While it’s still basically a kids movie and was slow in parts, it has a great appeal to the thirty and up crowd as well that grew up with video games, and it serves as a pocket history of and commentary on the video game movement at the same time it tells it’s story.

Frank in 8 bit form

“Wreck it Ralph” bus stop, San Francisco

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Filed under Appreciation, Moving Pictures, Oakland-Bay Area, Pictures, Uncategorized