Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Nile Rodgers Chic Le Freak
Nile Rodgers, the surviving founder of Chic, chronicles the rise of his group in “Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny.” Co-founder Bernard Edwards died in Tokyo, Japan in 1996.
The distinctive production style of Rodgers was responsible for hits by Diana Ross, David Bowie, Sister Sledge, Duran Duran, Grace Jones and many more.
Rodgers, a composer, arranger, guitarist and producer describes his humble beginnings in New York City before the dawn of Chic. Readers of this autobiography will enjoy the special Nile anecdotes from various studio sessions.
Chic was a dynamic force, driven by the unique style of Rodgers and Edwards (on bass). They don’t receive enough credit for their innovation. Chic is often stereotyped in perception by attributing the blandness of the disco era to the group. Many negate Chic’s best work by lumping it in with the mediocre robotic melodies of disco’s heyday.
For the whole story, check out “Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny.”
Monday, May 21, 2012
Donna Summer Remembered
LaDonna Adrian Gaines was born on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1948. She grew up in Boston with her parents and two sisters. By the time she was 12, she was singing Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick songs.
On her approach to singing as an adult, Donna says in her autobiography “to this day I will approach a song as an actress approaches a script. I do not sing; I act. When I sing, I sing with the voice of the character in the song."
With this in mind, one can be somewhat forgiving when reflecting on “Love To Love You Baby,” Donna’s over the top exercise in heavy breathing that was a big 1975 disco smash. Donna Summer passed away on May 17, 2012. Read our review of her autobiography “Donna Summer: Ordinary Girl”
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Dionne Warwick Opens Her Soul in My Life as I See It
Dionne Warwick says in her new autobiography, My Life As I See It, released in November, 2010, that a typo misprint on her first single “Don’t Make Me Over” changed her surname from Warrick to Warwick.
When her astrologer created a numerological chart in the 1970’s, the astrologer suggested adding an “e” to Warwick to create “stronger vibrations."
As Dionne says, “that meant every contract, advertisement, and record cover had to reflect the change."
She explains that record sales dipped, so “I went about getting it taken off all contracts, marquees, and future album covers."
My Life As I See It is a very enjoyable read, as Dionne covers every aspect of her life.
Her grandfather was a minister. She reflects on how people describe her vocal style as “classical or pop, but gospel has been and always will be first and foremost in my world of music."
Dionne Warwick finally released her first gospel album in 2008, Why We Sing. She credits gospel with making her a better pop singer.
Here is an artist who spans the decades from the early 1960’s to now. She began as a demo track and background singer in New York City, commuting from her home state of New Jersey.
When her solo career took off (propelled by songs created by the Hal David - Burt Bacharach writing team), she hit the road to tour. Dionne’s stories about experiencing 1963 “Jim Crow” racism travelling through the South echo what my other artists in the early 1960’s endured.
Apart from her own talent, Ms. Warwick has glorious singing family connections, including her late sister Dee Dee, aunt Cissy Houston, Cousin Whitney Houston, and cousin Leontyne Price.
Excellence takes hard work, and Dionne was no slouch. She took piano lessons every week from age six until her early twenties.
When those singers she respected played within a 100 miles radius of one of her performances, she would go to their shows (Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll, Sammy Davis Jr.), etc., with a legal pad, ask to be seated in the rear of the room with a direct line of sight to the stage, and take notes about every relevant detail of the performance.
She has real bachelor and master’s degrees in music.
Dionne speaks frankly about whether her style is black enough.
She says receiving the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 2003 was satisfying “to be honored by a sector of the industry that never thought of me as an R&B singer."
"My crossover appeal was one of the factors in my success. My music was played on African American stations as well as white radio stations."
"Ironically, my crossover success in pop prompted something that came as a big surprise: the decline of airplay for my records on African American radio."
When the top New York City R&B station WWRL held off adding “Alfie” to their playlist, Warwick recalls that when the song reached number one (and was finally added by the station), she telephoned into dj Rocky G. while he was playing the song and asked “Why are you playing that white girl’s record?"
G. answered, “That is no white girl, and who is this?” Dionne’s reply: “This is the one you told was too white to play on your show, This is Dionne.” The two laughed about that incident for many years to come.
This anecdote reveals the professional aggressiveness that pushes Dionne Warwick forward through a ground breaking career of many firsts.
- 1968 - First African American since Ella Fitzgerald to win Best Contemporary Pop Vocal Grammy.
- 1979 - First female solo artist to win Grammy awards in pop & R&B in the same year.
- In the 1980’s she was one of the first artists to develop a fragrance, “Dionne.”
- 1980 - 1988. She is one of the first African American females to host a music variety television program (season one and season five) of Solid Gold.
- Say a Little Prayer, her first children’s book, was published in 2008.
You get the sense that Dionne Warwick has clear values with focus, a factor that has contributed to her success.
She talks about embracing collaborations with Barry Manilow leading to the massive hits “Deja Vu” and “I’ll Never Love This Way Again,” but being highly fearful about the “Heartbreaker” song project with the Bee Gees.
Dionne explains about several Bee Gees member Barry Gibb songs presented to her: “one I thought was just not me was “Heartbreaker.” “I did not like it."
Finally giving in to producer Gibb, Ms. Warwick adds “needless to say, I was wrong, and he was right. “Heartbreaker became one of my biggest international hits to date."
I’ll close with this Warwick - Mary J. Blige encounter, which gives you further incite into ‘the soul of Dionne.’
In the 1990’s, Warwick participated in organizing talent for a show Celebrate the Soul of American Music.
This program gave her the opportunity “to meet Mary J. Blige. “She was “rough” around the edges at the beginning of her career. But she was an important part of the new sounds that were defining rap and hip-hop."
"Why she had been asked to do this show, I don’t know, because the Stellar Awards honors the gospel community. But there she was, showing up to rehearse in her fatigues and combat boots."
"When the dress rehearsal for cameras was about to begin, most artists brought out what they would be wearing to show the colors. Ms. Blige was still in fatigues and combat boots."
"I asked if she would bring out what she intended to wear on the show. In not such a ladylike way, she let me know that she had on what she was going to wear."
"I had to say that what she had on was not appropriate for the show."
"I told her I could send one of the stylists out to get her something. But, without missing a beat, she again let me know in no uncertain terms that she was wearing what she had on."
"I then said she would have to wear that somewhere else, because she was no longer on the show."
"I ran into her again a few years later at the inaugural ground-breaking ceremony of the Magic Johnson Theatres in Harlem and I almost didn’t recognize her."
"She was beautifully dressed to the nines."
"She approached me and asked if I remembered her, and I said I did. She thanked me for opening her eyes to the reality of who she should be and now was."
"Watching her become someone to respect within her community of young entertainers has been great."
"She is now the epitome of positive imagery and high self-esteem."
"She has fought the battle with negativity and won the war. Thank you, Mary J. Blige, for being."
And thank you Dionne Warwick, for an eye-opening book, an amazing career, and your trailblazing pioneer efforts since the early 1960’s.
Watch and listen to Dionne Warwick’s live performance of “Alfie,” from 1993 in Brazil.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Bloodstone Stays Cool with Natural High Vibes
"Natural High” was Bloodstone’s only certified-gold single. “Why do I keep my mind, on you all of the time” lyrically opens the #4 R&B, #10 pop 1973 hit.
Group member Charles McCormick, (2nd from the left), wrote this classic soul ballad for his wife, his senior-class high school sweetheart.
Bloodstone was formed in Kansas City, Missouri, by McCormick, Harry Williams, Charles Love, Willis Draffen Jr., and Roger Durham.
When the temperature gets hot, “Natural High” puts you in a cool state of mind.
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Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Roberta Flack Keeps Her Song Soft and Mellow
Always the master of timeless R&B, Roberta Flack continues to serenade audiences with her elegant mixture of toned down pop, soul, and jazz.
Roberta’s official biography tells the story...
"Classically trained on the piano from an early age, Ms. Flack received a music scholarship at age 15 to attend Howard University."
"She was “discovered while singing at the Washington, DC nightclub Mr. Henry’s by musician Les McCann, and promptly signed to Atlantic Records resulting in the release of a string of big Roberta Flack hits."
An interpretive album of Beatles’ classics is occupying lots of Roberta’s time, even as she sings to audiences during her 2010 tour.
Her Roberta Flack School of Music at the Hyde Leadership Charter School in the Bronx, New York, provides inspiring music education to underprivileged students free of charge.
That’s Roberta giving back to the community.
Roberta Flack live features the following dates:
- Saturday, June 12, 2010, DC Jazz Festival, Washington, DC
- Saturday, June 19, McDonald’s Gospelfest, Prudential Center Arena, Newark, NJ
- Friday, July 9, Vancouver Island Music Fest, British Columbia, Canada
- Saturday, July 17, BFLO Jazz Festival, Delaware Park, Buffalo, NY
- Sunday, July 25, Calgary Folk Music Festival, Calgary, Canada
- Saturday, September 4, Tokyo Jazz Festival, Tokyo, Japan
- Saturday, September 18, Mayo Civic Center Theater, Rochester, MN
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Jimmy Castor Bunch Funk Jammin
From underground cool to comedic novelty, Jimmy Castor covers all the bases displaying musical versatility as his calling card.
Will he sing, swing with saxophone, or stomp all night long in the funk?
The New York City native has the expressive multicultural Big Apple as his foundation.
Latin-soul, Afro-Cuban, pop, R&B, funk. It’s all in The Jimmy Castor Bunch, his showcase group.
This picture is from the cover of his ‘best of’ 2002 CD, The Jimmy Castor Bunch 16 Slabs of Funk.
Released on the BMG label, I wouldn’t say that this is the definitive greatest hits collection, as some good stuff from Castor’s Atlantic Records days are missing.
Track one is an edited version of the funk classic “It’s Just Begun,” a song sampled by numerous hip hop heavies. The famous 10 second sax solo that opens the song has be cut out.
Novelty tunes “Say Leroy” and “Troglodyte (Cave Man)” are here.
His instrumental saxophone virtuosity shines on Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."
"Tribute to Jimi: Purple Haze/Foxey Lady” introduces Hendrix’s music to Castor’s fan base, but this medley doesn’t soar like the original tracks.
“Bad," an unappreciated short 2-minute message song, has the hook, rhythm, and lyric to make it all work. Listen to 40 seconds of “Bad” below.
Of the 16 songs on this album, the ones I have mentioned present the essence of Jimmy Castor.
His Atlantic album catalogue has been reissued. Perhaps there is a definite best of Jimmy Castor in the future.
I would include the excellent full version of “Potential,” and “Soul Travelin’,” a song The Jimmy Castor Bunch recorded with New York City deejay Gary Byrd.
Read his official biography and listen to my 10 minute conversation with Jimmy Castor and Gerry Thomas (from a longer interview I did back in the day).
But first, listen to The Jimmy Castor Bunch get funky with “Bad."
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Thursday, May 13, 2010
Stevie Wonder Celebrates 60
Just in time for the celebration of Stevie Wonder’s 60th birthday on May 13, 2010, pop culture writer Mark Ribowsky has put the Motown legend under the literary microscope in a new book.
Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: The Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder meticulously chronicles his compelling story from child prodigy to international super star.
Ribowsky doesn’t sweep some of the negative parts of the Wonder odyssey under the rug.
He keeps the story real by taking an honest look at how Stevie grew up within the Motown family driven by his positive inner talent (accompanied by some external negative demons along for the ride).
Through the pen of the author, this is an entertaining, fun story, which in many was reflects the zany personality of Stevie Wonder.
The details in Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: The Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder are thoroughly intense.
Ribowsky is gifted in documenting the elaborate minutiae of Stevie’s story in a way that sometimes reads more like a novel than a biography.
After the first third of the book you’ll discover how dysfunctional elements of Wonder’s family influenced relocation to Detroit, Michigan.
Mark Ribowsky uses many quick anecdotes from supporting Wonder sources including quotes from books by Supreme Mary Wilson, music critic Nelson George, and Stevie’s mother, Lula Mae Wright (Hardaway).
If you have always been confused about what Stevie Wonder’s real name is, here is a brief excerpt from Signed, Sealed, and Delivered that explores this topic:
There’s so much in this story that I haven’t even scratched the surface, so next time, we’ll get to Ribowsky’s narration about Stevie Wonder’s wild days at Motown when he began producing memorable music.
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Monday, May 10, 2010
Lena Horne Leaves a Lasting Legacy of Music
Lena Horne was an all-media superstar who captured hearts on radio, television, movies, records, and Broadway.
Ms. Horne was attracted to show business early as a 16-year-old chorus girl at Harlem’s famous Cotton Club in 1933.
She was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 30, 1917, and celebrated her 90th birthday in 2007.
Ms. Horne has just passed away at 92 (on May 10, 2010).
In 1981, Quincy Jones’ Qwest Records released Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music Live on Broadway.
Listen to 60 seconds of Lena Horne singing “If You Believe” from this double album.
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Thursday, April 08, 2010
The Delfonics Debut Harmonic Philly Soul
The Delfonics set the stage for the Stylistics, the O’Jays, and the eventual parade of other future smooth Philly-soul vocal groups.
The sound of the Delfonics was not the funky sound of Motown, Stax, Memphis, or Chicago.
Producer Thom Bell enhanced what the Delfonics created to eventually popularize this style of quiet storm R&B.
Philadelphia’s original Delfonics: Wilbert Hart, William Hart, and Randy Cain first recorded for the Cameo Parkway label. Thom Bell would grab them for his Philly Groove label, releasing “La La Means I Love You” in 1968.
Major Harris, of “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” fame would replace Randy Cain in 1971.
As Marc Taylor describes in his book A Touch of Classic Soul: Soul Singers of the Early 1970’s, there were 2 sets of Delfonics touring in the 1980s because of a legal fight over the name.
There will be no confusion when you watch and listen to my 30 second slide show featuring “the real” Delfonics.
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Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Jackie Wilson the Legend
The man known as “Mr. Excitement” began and ended his career as a member of a group.
He sang with the Dominoes in 1951. In 1975, Jackie Wilson, the singer and the showman, performed the lead vocal for the Chi-Lites on “Don’t Burn No Bridges."
In the period between these 2 groups, the explosive solo career path of Jackie Wilson paved the way for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
As a 16 year old amateur Golden Gloves welterweight boxing champion in 1950, Sonny Wilson pretended to be 18 to qualify for the sport.
Luckily for the music world, Sonny Wilson would abandon boxing to thankfully morph into Jackie Wilson and launch his singing career just one year later.
By 1960, vocal sensation Jackie would break the one week attendance record at the Apollo Theater in New York City.
He lived with a bullet in his stomach that could not be removed, the result of a 1961 encounter with a Juanita Jones, a female fan, who shot him in his New York City apartment.
There would be more tragedy for Jackie, as he suffered a 1975 heart attack on stage in the Philadelphia area while singing his classic “Lonely Teardrops” at the Latin Casino dinner theater in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
With 47 songs on the R&B charts, and at least 54 in the top 100 pop singles chart, Jackie Wilson’s 17-year-plus solo career is the stuff of legends.
His voice sends chills up and down your spine. Just listen to “Baby Workout” if you have any doubts.
Jackie Wilson died on January 21, 1984. His music lives on for new generations to enjoy.
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Thursday, January 28, 2010
A Classic Soul Memory from the Lost Generation
Chicago’s The Lost Generation recorded 2 albums for Brunswick Records before leaving the label in 1973.
Jesse Dean, Larry Brownlee, and brothers Lowrell and Fred Simon were The Lost Generation.
Their one major hit, “The Sly, Slick & The Wicked,” was Record World Magazine’s Song of the Year (a co-honor shared with “ABC” by the Jackson 5 in 1970).
"Beware young girls of the sly, the slick, and the wicked.” That’s the love song message these guys put over in this significant hit.
The music track is similar to the sound of their fellow label mates, The Chi-Lites.
Writer Kevin L. Goins says that The Lost Generation recorded this song at the tail end of a Jackie Wilson recording studio session.
Listen to 30 seconds of this noteworthy classic soul blast from the past, “The Sly, Slick & The Wicked” by The Lost Generation.
You can find the track on the deluxe 2 CD collection Brunswick Top 40 R&B Singles 1966 - 1975.
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Thursday, January 14, 2010
Teddy Pendergrass - the Best of Philly
I must have caught Teddy Pendergrass on an off day. He was coming out of the Club Harlem in Atlantic City, New Jersey, during the days when “Bad Luck” was hot.
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendegrass were in town for a weekend of performances.
T.P. on this particular afternoon might have been leaving the club after a rehearsal.
I approached him and announced my affiliation with the local R&B radio station, WUSS. He pretty much ignored me and kept on steppin’.
Such was the sometimes self absorbed ego of Mr. Pendergrass.
When be became too big for just the black clubs and crossed over to the largest venues, Teddy exploded as a solo act.
In his early days by himself after the Blue Notes era, he always included a stint on the drums during his stage act, as he was a very good drummer.
Voice, sexual persona, charisma, and entertainer magnetism cleary puts T.P. in the classic soul hall of fame.
I attended a tribute to Teddy Pendergrass in Philadelphia on December 17, 1980. Click the link and take a look at all of the folks who participated.
This feature was part of a Teddy Pendergrass spotlight we posted in 2007 as part of the Powerhouse Radio Archive.
Teddy Pendergrass died on Wednesday, January 13, 2010, after battling colon cancer.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009
George Benson Releases Songs and Stories
George Benson likes to throw rigid music categories out the window when he describes himself as “an entertainer” at heart.
During his successful career, George has repeatedly walked across ‘genre street’ bridging jazz, classic soul, and straight ahead R&B.
The new George Benson album, Songs and Stories, scheduled for an October 2009 release, leans toward the pop mainstream with tracks written by among others James Taylor, Smokey Robinson, Lamont Dozier, Bill Withers, and Donny Hathaway.
In reading through the official George Benson biography on his website, it’s clear that he has paid his dues excelling in a variety of award winning roles as both a guitarist and vocalist.
Benson’s hits are well known: “This Masquerade,” “Give Me The Night,” “Inside Love.” A novelty favorite of mine is 1975’s “Supership,” a danceable ditty complete with ocean liner horn sound effects.
Songs and Stories continues the George Benson legacy with these tracks:
- “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”
- “Family Reunion”
- “Show Me The Love”
- “A Telephone Call Away”
- “Someday We’ll All Be Free”
- “Nuthin’ But A Party”
- “Come In From The Cold”
- “Rainy Night In Georgia”
- “One Like You”
- “Living In High Definition”
Join Mr. Benson as he continues his international 2009 tour:
- October 22, 2009 Westbury, NY – Westbury Music Fair
- October 24, Detroit, MI – Masonic Center
- November 12, Yerevan, Armenia - National Academic Opera and Ballet
- November 14, Moscow, Russia – Kremlin Palace
- November 16, Baku, Azerbaijan – Heydar Aliyev Palace
- November 18, Dubai, UAE – Emirates Golf Club
- November 19, Manama, Bahrain – Venue to be announced
- November 22, Rome, Italy – Sala Santa Cecilia
- November 23, Naples, Italy – Teatro Augesteo
- November 24, Bari, Italy – Teatroteam
- November 25, Catania, Italy – Teatro Metropolitan
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Thursday, September 17, 2009
The Pointer Sisters Keep their Trio Together
The beat goes on for The Pointer Sisters, despite the loss of June Pointer in April, 2006.
There’s strength in the family when multiple generations can sing together to create harmony in the name of beautiful music.
Issa, (on the right, with Ruth (left) and Anita Pointer (middle) is Ruth’s daughter. Issa officially joined the group in 2003, and was 7 years old when the Pointer Sisters toured in 1985.
Read the compelling Issa Pointer story on the official Pointer Sisters website.
Catch the Pointer Sisters Saturday, September 26, 2009, at Bally’s in Atlantic City, NJ.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The Gap Band Keep the Party Train on Track
The legendary Gap Band of brothers honed the art of funk to a science with a truly unique approach to their groove grinding R&B.
These photos are from Gap Band VI.
Let’s reveal much more about this trio who hail from the USA heartland by spotlighting some highlights from The Gap Band’s official biography...
"One of the most influential groups in the history of classic soul, Charlie and his brothers, Ronnie and Robert Wilson, made themselves famous with their non-stop humorous funk grooves.
The sons of a Pentecostal minister, the Wilson brothers started performing in 1967 when they formed a group along with Tuck Andress of Tuck and Patti Fame.
The GAP Band, named after the black business hub of their native Tulsa, Oklahoma (Greenwood, Archer, Pine Streets), became the band of choice for visiting musicians.
“We used to be called the Greenwood Archer Pine Street Band,” Charlie explains, “but that was a bit too much to put on posters, so we abbreviated it to G.A.P. Band.
Then once, through a typographical error, the periods disappeared and out popped the GAP Band.”
During the band’s early career they opened for major hit bands like The Rolling Stones, and supported J.J. Cale, Willie Nelson, D.J. Rogers, and Leon Russell.
In the 80’s, Charlie toured with Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics. The GAP Band has always been a touring powerhouse, known for their high energy, groove thumpin, party-like set.
Throughout their career they have performed with an eclectic set of artists including Frankie Beverly and Maze, The Isley Brothers, R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, L.L. Cool J, Destiny’s Child, Ashanti, Ja Rule, and Dru Hill.
From the late 70’s to early 80’s the band dominated the R&B charts with their hard driving funk grooves. Four of the band’s nine albums went platinum..."
- The Gap Band II
- The Gap Band III
- The Gap Band IV
- Gap Band V - Jammin)
- Gap Band hits include:
- “You Dropped a Bomb on Me”
- “Party Train”
- “Burn Rubber”
- “Oops Upside Your Head”
- “Early in the Morning”
- “Yearning for Your Love”
Charlie Wilson continues to support his own solo career, and will be performing on the following dates:
- Friday, June 19, 2009, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN
- Saturday, June 20, City Stages Music Festival, Birmingham, AL
- Friday, June 26, Grant Park - Taste of Chicago, Chicago, IL
- Saturday, June 27, Chene Park, Detroit, MI
- Sunday, June 28, Nokia Theater, Dallas, TX
- Saturday, July 4, Essence Music Festival – Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA
- Friday, July 24, Kanawha Plaza, Richmond, VA
- Friday, July 31, Macy’s Music Festival – Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
- Friday, August 14, Steve Harvey Hoodie Awards, Las Vegas, NV
- Friday, September 4, Palace Theater, Cleveland, OH
- Sunday, September 6, Fort Hood Stadium, Killeen, TX
- Friday, October 2, LA County Fair, Los Angeles, CA
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