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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Teena Marie Lady T

Hot irons in the fire!  Fiery classic soul.  Lady T., Teena Marie didn’t have to take a backseat to anyone.  I was lucky enough to see her perform live one time.

It was in a large Philadelphia arena.  The size of the crowd did not distract from the intimate punch Lady T. hammered home that night.  Teena Marie, March 5, 1956 - December 26, 2010.

Posted by King on 10/24 at 07:20 PM
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

True Soul Classics from Little Rock Arkansas

In the history of classic soul, the grits n’ grooves city of Memphis in the southwest corner of Tennessee gets much well deserved credit for cultivating the music.

Stax ruled the roost back in the day, with The Soul Children, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & the MG’s, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, and an iconic list of artists.

Hundreds of miles to the west in the neighboring state of Arkansas, Lee Anthony was building a local presence by nurturing True Soul Records out of Little Rock in 1968.

Anthony, who graduated from college with an art history degree, gathered a stable of local Little Rock musicians, groups, and artists partly collaborated through the many relationships he built while in school.

Anthony was the entrepreneur and somewhat self-taught recording engineer who put his record studio dream together.

Early on he would record tracks in his Little Rock Studio, and travel to Memphis to press 45 RPM vinyl records he could sell.

Anthony gleaned inspiration along with ideas during numerous trips to Memphis, hanging out with the Stax crowd, attending their events, and observing recording techniques in their studio.

He reflects within the liner notes of the recently released True Soul CD/DVD’s that “I came back to Little Rock and tried to duplicate the instrumentation Stax had.”

One thing about the 32 tracks featured across the two volumes of True Soul.  The sound is raw, experimental, and adventurous.

Some describe it as southern soul.  These songs sound less like multi-tracked studio creations and more like live slices of real performances from some committed, enthusiastic entertainers.

This multi record set is billed as Deep Sounds from the Left of Stax 60s & 70’s Soul and Funk from Arkansas’s Legendary Independent Label.

You generally wouldn’t call the Stax sound layered and sophisticated in production technique, compared to say Motown, as Stax was closer to the root of basic blues.

The True Soul Records sound even more straightforward than Stax, and are driven by basic uncomplicated instrumental tracks to support the vocals.

Most of these songs were not national or even regional hits.

Reviewing them today captures the essence of how local tastes in American music back in the day could make or break artists.

Today, national and global breakouts are commonplace propelled by satellite networks, computers, YouTube, and iTunes.

I was blown away by the 30 odd pages of photos and liner notes (included in each volume) detailing the interesting history of the True Soul label and it’s place in rhythm and blues history.

I admit this is a story I was not familiar with.

Listen to 90 seconds of “Psychedelic Hot Pants” by York Wilborn’s Psychedelic Six, and learn more about Deep Sounds from the Left of Stax 60s & 70’s Soul and Funk from Arkansas’s Legendary Independent Label True Soul Records.

Posted by King on 10/26 at 07:30 PM
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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Grammy Boots Soul to the Curb

In a move designed to downsize the density of awards, the Grammys are streamlining their portfolio of potential winners for 2012.

Categories are being sliced, diced, and reduced to 78 from 109.

Some separate male and female awards will be combined into new categories.

The R&B area was hammered pretty hard.  8 awards have been cut to 4.  A review of the awards category restructuring page at Grammy.org reveals that “Best R&B Performance” will take the place of these 4 eliminated classifications:

  • Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (dropped)
  • Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (dropped)
  • Best R&B Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocals (dropped)
  • Best Urban/Alternative Performance (dropped)

As a result of discontinuing the “Best Female R&B vocal performance” and “Best Male R&B vocal performance,” “The Best R&B Performance” now becomes highly competitive.

Hip hop lost only one category dropping from 5 to 4.

A date for the 54th Grammy Awards in 2012 has not been announced.  Look for the show in February.  Hopefully it will be shorter, and more entertaining.

Posted by King on 04/06 at 07:30 PM
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

6 Songs from 2010 with Powerhouse Soul

Across all musical genres the usual suspects released an adequate supply of new tunes during 2010.  It’s debatable how much of it was truly distinguished.

Among our 6 Songs from 2010 with powerhouse soul, just 2 are new, the rest are covers, albeit very good ones.

The emotional power of the 20 live tracks provided by the artists on the Hope for Haiti Now album benefiting the victims of the earthquake there reflect the seriousness of one of the most important stories of the year.

1) “Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour) Version 1.0” by Jay-Z, Bono, The Edge, and Rihanna is at the top of our list.  Good message, great collaboration, nice beat.

2) “Wake Up Everybody” lead by John Legend, Melanie Fiona, and Common is next.  A very good contemporary version of the classic by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes.

3) “The Word” by Bettye LaVette is the surprise of the year.  Good things come to those who wait.  Ms. Lavette retooled this Lennon & McCartney song and took it to Memphis.

4) “Move on Up” Angelique Kidjo (with John Legend & Bono) turned Curtis Mayfield’s anthem into a world music theme.  Exposure during the World Cup was nice.

5) “Night Shift” (Tribute to Michael Jackson version), the Commodores.  In 2010 the Commodores re-released their original hit with new lyrics dedicated to the King of Pop to coincide with the anniversary of his death.  The update works perfectly.

6) “Breaking News,” Michael Jackson.  When your “B” material is still better than the “A” material of many other artists, you know you are special.  This is an excellent, sarcastic boogie-down “in your face” response to the media for their attempt to demonize M-J.

The song opens with hilarious sound bites from frantic TV & radio news reporters talking smack about his antics.  “Breaking News” was recorded a couple of years ago, but never released until this fall.  It’s included on Jackson’s scheduled December 14th offering of never released material: Michael.

Posted by King on 12/08 at 07:30 PM
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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Video - Remembering Michael Jackson One Year Later

Click the link and please watch this 90 second video (posted on facebook) featuring my thoughts about the King of Pop’s year long archival renaissance as we mark the first anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson.

The date was June 25, 2009, one year ago.

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Posted by King on 06/24 at 01:00 AM
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Can Record Store Day Save a Sinking Ship?

Album sales are down 6.1 percent in the first 3 month of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

They add that for the first time, iTunes and CD sales online have passed the traditional big box retailers.

Amazon and their digital brethren now make up the largest distribution channel for music, and for good reason.

Big boxers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have dropped the ball when challenged with stocking a satisfactory variety of the newest music being released.

You’ll always find the A-list performers in their racks, but you are hard pressed to find a deep selection of new music representing a variety of artists from different niche genres.

Jazz, soul, and R&B are frequent victims of this trend.

Bookstores including Encore and Barnes and Noble do a better job stocking tunes, but as with the big box stores, music sales no longer represent a growth area.

The digital music download world is hurting too.

Nielsen SoundScan says that downloads experienced their first year-to-year quarterly sales decline ever, falling about 1 percent between January 1 and April 4.

In the same period in 2009, digital download sales were up 13 percent over 2008.

CD’s will eventually go the way of the horse and buggy, just as electric vehicles will slowly take market share from gas engine cars.

Computers inevitably crash, and unless you back everything up, there’s still a better element of permanency when investing in compact discs.

The CD for many is still an important part of their music collection.

Once upon a time, the best place in town to salivate over new releases and bountiful catalogs was the record store.

I worked in an independent record store for 3 years part-time as a teenager.

Today, only the bigger cities can still support the few independent record emporiums that are left.

In Philadelphia, my favorite is Sound of Market Street (JazSound), surviving in 2010 with an awesome collection of CD’s (and vinyl discs).

A worldwide event has been created to spotlight stores just like Sound of Market (JazSound).

Saturday, April 17 will mark the 3rd annual Record Store Day.

RecordStoreDay.com says that the original idea for this promotion was “conceived by Chris Brown, and was founded in 2007 by Eric Levin, Michael Kurtz, Carrie Colliton, Amy Dorfman, Don Van Cleave and Brian Poehner as a celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the USA, and hundreds of similar stores internationally."

The website further amplifies the concept explaining “this is the one day that all of the independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music."

"Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day and hundreds of artists in the United States and in various countries across the globe make special appearances and performances."

Record Store Day is now celebrated on the 3rd Saturday every April.

At RecordStoreDay.com, I did a random ‘search by state’ to see what was happening in Texas.  Over 50 independent record stores came up in the Lone Star State, so there still is a heartbeat left in this disappearing institution that’s now on life-support.

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Posted by King on 04/15 at 01:00 AM
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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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Posted by King on 03/30 at 09:00 PM
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Smokey Robinson Writes the Mighty Classics

You know you’re a great song writer when your catalog of melodies includes hundreds of compositions.

At last count, Smokey Robinson had over 460 songs registered in the official online song databases as author (or co-author).

Without Smokey, how would Motown have had all of those early hits?

Let’s not even mention the scores of artists who have covered his songs.

"Ain’t That Peculiar,” Marvin Gaye and George Clinton.  “My Girl,” the Temptations and the Whispers.  “Tears of A Clown,” the Miracles and Shalamar.

One of your all-time favorites might just be a Smokey Robinson song.

When it comes to love and romance, the pen of ‘Bill’ William ‘Smokey’ Robinson is number one.

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Posted by King on 03/23 at 07:30 PM
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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Sharon Jones takes the Long Road to SXSW in Austin

The annual Austin, Texas music extravaganza, SXSW, (South by Southwest), will draw dynamic acts from all over the globe for the March 17 - 21 (music week), 2010 showcase.

1987 was the first SXSW in Austin, a unique music city that mixes jazz, blues, rock, country, & folk.  This Texas town claims to have “more original music nightclubs in a concentrated area than any other city in the world."

One group getting a lot of attention this year is Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, who will perform Wednesday evening, March 17.

Within some music circles, the R&B authenticity of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings is hotly debated.

Without question, Sharon’s soulful delivery is genuine.  Are the Dap-Kings the second coming of original instrumental virtuosity on par with Booker T. & the MG’s (Memphis), The Funk Brothers (Motown), or MFSB (Philadelphia)?

No, if that’s what you’re looking for.

I’d argue that Jones & company have fused these influences to produce a contemporary neo classic soul sound that doesn’t necessarily mimic the expectations of past legacy styles.

When you have a diverse ethnic mix of musicians in a group, fresh sounds are often invented.

People who have seen Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings rave about their intense live show.

It’s also rare for a performer to jump into the music game after the age of 40, and achieve the success Sharon has earned.

You’ve heard the sound of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings in these movies: Soul Men (sound track), Up in the Air, American Gangster and The Great Debaters.

If you won’t be in Austin for SXSW, here’s the current international tour schedule for Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings:

  • Friday, March 26, Snoe.down Festival - Rutland, VT
  • Saturday, April 10, Astra - Berlin, Germany
  • Tuesday, April 13, Trabendo - Paris, France
  • Wednesday, April 14, Koko - London, UK
  • Thursday, April 15, Paradiso - Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Saturday, April 17, Wanee Festival - Live Oak, FL
  • Thursday, April 22, Festival Internationale de Louisiane - Lafayette, LA
  • Friday, April 23, The Howling Wolf - New Orleans, LA
  • Saturday, April 24, Double Decker Festival - Oxford, MS
  • Friday, April 30, Apollo Theater - New York City, NY
  • Saturday, May 1, Apollo Theater - New York City, NY
  • Thursday, May 6, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden - Richmond, VA
  • Friday, May 7, Rams Head Onstage - Annapolis, MD
  • Saturday, May 8, Jefferson Theater - Charlottesville, VA
  • Sunday, May 9, The NorVa - Norfolk, VA
  • Tuesday, May 11, Cats Cradle - Carrboro, NC
  • Wednesday, May 12, Orange Peel - Ashesville, NC
  • Thursday, May 13, Center Stage - Atlanta Atlanta, GA
  • Friday, May 14, Cannery Ballroom - Nashville, TN
  • Saturday, May 15, Nelsonville Music Festival - Nelsonville, OH
  • Monday, May 17, The Southgate House - Newport, KY
  • Tuesday, May 18, Majestic Theatre - Detroit, MI

Look for the new Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings collection, I Learned the Hard Way, their 4th album, scheduled for release on Tuesday, April 6th, 2010.

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Posted by King on 03/04 at 08:00 AM
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Monday, February 01, 2010

Beyonce Dominates the Grammy Awards

The big story at the 2010 52nd annual Grammy Awards was Beyonce’s dominance with 6 new trophies, but there were some other interesting musical moments.

For instant gratification, the opening performers usually hit some high notes, and that’s what Lady Gaga & Elton John did.

The Grammy show is not for you if you have a short attention span, as you have to sit through the dull moments to experience the true gems of the evening during the three and 1/2 hour marathon.

After Celine Dion, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, and Carrie Underwood performed Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song,” 2 of Michael’s children accepted a lifetime achievement award with short, moving comments.

Jamie Foxx and T-Pain, who won for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (with Kanye West who did not perform), brought some energy and excitement to the evening (that often dragged along).

Hats off to The Dave Matthews Band for an impressive well played set.

Best act introduction: Quentin Tarantino bringing on the most bleeped performance of the night: Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Drake.  Come on guys! You are on rated G TV.

Beyonce’ has come a long way. Anyone who can win in such broad musical categories can take comfort in knowing that they’ve arrived - big time.

Beyonce’s Grammy Awards:

  1. Song of the Year - “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”
  2. Best R&B Song - “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”
  3. Best Female R&B Vocal Performance - “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”
  4. Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance - “At Last” from Cadillac Records
  5. Best Female Pop Vocal Performance - “Halo”
  6. Best Contemporary R&B Album - I Am...Sasha Fierce

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Posted by King on 02/01 at 01:00 AM
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Monday, January 04, 2010

Mary J Blige is Stronger with each Tear

Why does Mary J. Blige stands out from other contemporary ladies of song including Beyonce’, Alicia Keys, and Rihanna?

Well, Mary J. is… Mary J.

Miss Blige has forged a solid track record since 1992 building on an authentic R&B hip hop fusion that she continues to refine with intricate skill.

Her new album Stronger with Each Tear, released at the tail end of 2009, features spirited, lively, and well produced commercially festive tracks.

The songs reflect positive emotions.  Mary J. belts out the lyrics with expressive conviction.

You know she’s been around the block and communicates her experience through the stories these songs tell.

Despite the slick, catchy hooks in these crafty and memorable numbers, there’s just enough raw grit to keep Mary J. real, relevant, and believable.

With the exception of the very different “I Can See In Color,” a bluesy final track, Stronger with Each Tear, is consistently good.

You’ve read my opinion, now here are 3 others...

Los Angeles Times - “The compositions belie their complexity with expansive hip-hop beats, delicate piano and lush strings. Producers such as Ne-Yo know how to primp and pamper without hitting overload, and guests Drake, T.I. and Trey Songz all deliver strong turns."

"Yet some of the best moments are stripped down: the Raphael Saadiq-produced “I Can See in Color,” also featured on the Precious soundtrack, is a profession of self-worth that’s at once silky and dirge-like."

New York Times - “The standout on Mary J. Bliges ninth studio album, Stronger with Each Tear, is its final song, I Can See in Color, from the soundtrack of Precious.

"It restates Ms. Bliges favorite message that tribulation is the beginning of redemption in an emphatically unadorned minor-key soul setting."

Boston Globe - “The queen of hip-hop soul splits her loyalty between three masters with the agility of a gymnast, but she manages to hold a mood with seamless transitions between each."

"Deliberate, midtempo pop-soul songs help you catch your breath, which is all the better to sing along."

"The highlights include the current single, I Am, another slice of melodic joy from the golden production team Stargate, and the purposeful Each Tear, which sounds like a combination of Alicia Keys and Aretha Franklin."

"The album closes with a one-two punch of simmering, old-school soul tracks In the Morning and I Can See in Color.

"The latter, from the Precious soundtrack, is produced to raw perfection by Raphael Saadiq. Its a reminder that Blige gets stronger with each album."

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Posted by King on 01/04 at 01:00 AM
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

5 Soulful Favorites Touch 2009

Although the sun has set on the golden age of classic soul, the sprit of the music continues to live on with new tracks that embrace the tradition.

Every year, there are always great examples of very good new music.

In order, here are my 5 soulful 2009 favorites:

  1. Beyonce‘ - “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” - This could have been a Destiny’s Child track.  Simple rhythms, a fabulous hook, and a razor sharp contemporary message.  It’s brilliant pop music that grows on you.

  2. Michael Jackson - “This Is It” - Somewhat ignored by radio, this track is delightful, reminding us that we’ve lost an amazing prodigy.

  3. Mariah Carey - “I Want To Know What Love Is” - A talent takes a good song and makes it great.  This Foreigner classic has been given a memorable dramatic reading as well as a breath of fresh air.

  4. Lionel Richie - “Just Go” - He didn’t write most of the songs this time around on his latest album, however , Lionel Richie maintains his mass appeal star power with this strong performance.

  5. Whitney Houston - “I Look To You” - Last, but not least, two thumbs up for Whitney Houston, who has come back from despair to share her soul through this charming, but somewhat formulaic, new and appealing ballad.

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Posted by King on 12/10 at 01:00 AM
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This Is It Is Not the Last of Michael Jackson

Watch and listen to my thoughts about the new Michael Jackson song, “This Is It.” There are more unreleased tracks in the Michael Jackson vault waiting to eventually surface.

The Jacksons are featured on “This Is It” singing background vocals.  You’ll hear the track at the end of the movie Michael Jackson’s This Is It, and it is featured on the companion 2 CD record.

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Posted by King on 10/13 at 07:15 PM
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Woodstock Is Still Wonderful at 40

Woodstock, the 1969 arts and music festival, is an important iconic cultural event because of the changing artistic and social norms the concert both magnified and challenged.

August 15 - 18, 40 years ago this weekend, the harmonic happening happened.

The historic gathering of close to 500,000 people in Woodstock, New York was not the first flower-power super show.  Woodstock occurred 2 years after 1967’s Monterey Pop, a legendary California gathering of contemporary music elite.

We remember Woodstock, for creating the formula for Live Earth, Live Aid, Farm Aid, and the subsequent gigantic song filled mega affairs yet to come.

Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong in the planning, execution, and organization of Woodstock.

Just out of high school during the summer of 69’, I wrote the organizers for ticket information and received disappointing news from them in a letter laced with typographical mistakes.

In retrospect, with no tickets and no way to get there, it was a smart move for me not to attempt to go (from New York City) despite being just 80 miles away from the town of Woodstock.

Hundreds of thousands attended, including the gleeful gate crashers who soaked in the spirit of free admission, free music, and frequent rain during the weekend.

Woodstock, Monterey Pop, and many of the other Wal-Mart sized festivals have always been criticized for sparse representation of R&B and soul performers.

Monterey Pop had Booker T & The MG’s, Otis Redding, and Hugh Masekela.  Woodstock had Sly & The Family Stone, Richie Havens, and Santana.  Both featured Jimi Hendrix.

Missing from these grand spectacles, real blues legends like B.B. King.

Despite the booking lapses, it was still much easier to create a somewhat diverse concert bill in 1969 than what might be expected today.

Woodstock had among others

  • Folk: Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Melanie, Tim Hardin
  • Rock: Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Ten Years After
  • Soft Rock: Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
  • Blues Rock: Canned Heat, Butterfield Blues Band
  • Pop: Sha-Na-Na, John Sebastian

Woodstock is given a pass for the technical quality of the concert recording.  Admittedly, this was a tough job.

According to the official documentation on the original vinyl 3 album set, 64 reels of 8 track tape were used to capture three and 1/2 days of music.

Each day consisted of 18 continuous hours of performances.  The final mixes are rough by today’s standards.  What stands out is the energy and passion of the performers as they were motivated to jam thanks to the responsive, enthusiastic crowd.

In 1994 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Woodstock, a 4 CD collection was finally released with cleaner mixes.  Melanie, Tim Hardin, and a few other performers who appeared in 1969 (but were not on the original record) got added to the updated release.  Still, we remember this 60’s defining event not so much for the music, but for it’s social significance.

Listen for our 40th anniversary Woodstock tribute on Powerhouse Radio on Friday, August 14, 2009, during the 11 am eastern hour.

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Posted by King on 08/13 at 01:00 AM
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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Michael Jackson Wake - Thriller and Bad

Yes the abundant coverage of Michael Jackson’s tragic death will eventually end.  Among what I’ve watched, read, or listened to in several U.S. cities (and from around the world) over the past few days, here’s a highlight and low light:

  • Thriller: Donnie Simpson’s excellent radio interview with Smokey Robinson on Washington D.C.’s WPGC.
  • Bad: O’Jay Eddie Levert dropping the “s” bomb during the group’s lifetime achievement acceptance remark at the BET Awards/MJ tribute program.

What’s one thing you have liked and/or have disliked about the coverage of the Michael Jackson tragedy?  Leave a comment.

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Posted by King on 06/30 at 01:00 AM
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