THE DRUMMER THE GODFATHER MEANT WHEN HE SAID GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME (Clyde Stubblefield, R.I.P.)

If “copyright” meant anything, Clyde Stubblefield, who left James Brown’s band in the early seventies and, despite steady work when he wanted it, never had another high profile gig until he went to the place where all wrongs are righted this weekend, would have died richer than Bill Gates. His drum solos were literally the foundation stone of rap and hip-hop’s sampled “breaks”–not just of hundreds of actual songs, but the idea itself. They don’t need me to speak for them. They can speak for themselves, just like they’ve been doing, in some groove or other, for half a century and counting.

 

SMOKEY GETS HIS DUE….FROM HIMSELF (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #98)

A few days ago I caught the replay of last year’s Gershwin Award ceremony. This year’s honoree was Smokey Robinson. We’ll leave aside that he was the ninth recipient. I don’t want to get into the mindset that found eight people more deserving of an award devoted to recognizing of excellence in popular songwriting.

Let’s just talk about the show.

I caught it a few minutes in. For what seemed like the next seven hours or so, I listened to a bunch of contemporary artists killing it.

Literally.

One after another, they dragged out the Greatest Living Poet’s signature tunes and ritually stomped them to death right there in front of God, Smokey and everybody. By the time CeeLo Green closed down that portion of the program, he sounded like a genius just by failing to embarrass himself.

Then Smokey’s best friend, Berry Gordy, gave a nice, short speech.

When he finished I was left seriously wondering if even Smokey–who I wasn’t sure was going to sing–could redeem the hour those other fools had stolen from my life.

What was remarkable was not that he managed it–I have learned to expect miracles from him–but that he did so even before he sang a note. By the time he finished his speech, I didn’t even think he needed to sing.

Of course, that idea only lasted until he started singing. After a luminous “Being With You” he took on “Love is Here to Stay” and proved the heartfelt tribute he linked to his childhood memories of hearing Gershwin tunes growing up in a now-vanished upwardly mobile black Detroit was not confined to words.

Then the Poet–the one music man of the rock and roll era who was among the dozen or so greatest as a vocalist, songwriter, producer, arranger, band leader and live performer–showed a talent I didn’t know he had. He turned Conductor of Souls and humanized the Beltway crowd they always have for these things.

Trust me, it’s not a quality they could ever give themselves.

THE ENEMIES OF CIVILIZATION….(John Ford, John Ford and John Ford)

If you want to know who they are…

…and why Ford is always contemporary…

…just remember to keep your eye on the people who break glass in order to “make a statement.”

Though, to be fair, only Ford could make smashed glass feel like the death of a human being. Most directors struggle to make human death rise to the level of broken glass.

(Scenes are from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which, in addition to a dozen or so other narrative miracles, is one of the greatest movies about “the press”.)

ROPE-A-DOPE….AGAIN

Rooster said, “If I ever meet one of you Texas waddies that says he never drank water from a horse track I think I will shake his hand and give him a Daniel Webster cigar.”

“Then you don’t believe it?” asked LaBoeuf.

“I believed it the first twenty-five times I heard it.”

(True Grit, Charles Portis, 1968)

For the record, I’m dumber than Rooster Cogburn. The first five thousand times I heard the wild, independent cowboy spirits of the American media tell me they had Donald Trump on the ropes, I believed it.

Now we’re on to reassurance 5,001, something to do with the Russians, national security, General Flynn, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Nordstrom dropping Ivanka’s line and Pearl Harbor.

Yawn.

It’s striking that none of Trump’s opponents–meaning everybody who isn’t in his inner circle, which I gauge to be about three of his children and something less than three of his “advisers”–have figured out that a twenty-one month political winning streak against every established political/intellectual center of power or influence in the Western world probably has not happened by virtue of the amazing luck of an imbecile.

Trump has already established that he’s a political genius. (The laugh of the week was Mark Cuban trying to sell himself as a viable alternative on Bill O’Reilly’s show, without, of course, admitting he was doing anything of the kind!) It’s time to start treating him like one.

It’s also time to stop assuming he won’t show a similar talent for governance. He might not. It’s way too early to tell. But given his track record and the quality of his opponents–who can only hope to win with numbers if it’s warm bodies we’re counting, because it’s clear there aren’t three functioning brain cells among the lot–I wouldn’t bet against him.

Hell, maybe he really is Andy Jackson. There must be some reason I couldn’t get this out of my head during this afternoon’s surreal press conference, in which the working press dutifully played the British.

If I were advising Trump, I’d tell him to show up at his next rally (which, surprise, surprise, is this week, right next to Disney World) in a coonskin cap and carrying a musket. (If Disney’s parent corporation has gone so bonkers they stopped selling those in the gift shops, they deserve every bad thing that happens to them between now the Judgment.)

Heck, we’ve gone this far down the rabbit hole, there’s no call to stop now.

YOU DO WANT TO DANCE, DON’T YA? (Bobby Freeman, R.I.P.)

Any time? Any time at all? Anywhere? Anywhere at all…

….Including heaven tonight..

BROTHER RAY NEGATES THE FUTURE BEFORE IT CAN NEGATE US ALL (Segue of the Day: 2/15/17)

Rhino’s box set of Ray Charles’s Complete Country & Western Recordings: 1959-1986 is a gift that never stops giving. I don’t get a chance to listen to it nearly enough, but when I do, the rewards, from his justly famous Modern Sounds in Country and Western volumes to his raising John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” to Biblical proportions, are endless.

This week, because I had it on headphones, I finally heard how impossibly long he holds the impossibly blue note at the end of “Born to Lose,” the sinkhole of sorrow under “A Girl I Used to Know,” the “that’s me baby!” that redeems what has, up to that instant, seemed a far too straightforward take on “Wichita Lineman,” the way he turns in the middle of the mournful standard, “We Had It All,” (done by practically everyone in Nashville, its mournfulness forever defined by Dobie Gray), and threatens to turn back time, to obliterate the distance between a present that hurts too much and a past that never quite happened and to hell with the time-space continuum, he’s gonna reach straight through time and have the “all” he missed.

For a few seconds, you know he’ll make it. He’ll defeat mere time and dust and sorrow. He’s Ray Charles after all. Another great rock and roller with no real precedents and nothing close to an heir. Which only makes it hit all the harder when the few seconds pass and you know he won’t. There’s not much worse than rediscovering mortality–yours, his and everyone’s–ten seconds after you’ve grasped immortality.

Heavy.

But nothing weighed on me quite like these, resting next to each other…

You never know quite why some thoughts come when they do, but it was while listening to these songs that I glimpsed the future, where historians will write our epitaph, and realized every book that ponders our fate will have the same title, translated into all the future’s ten thousand languages.

America: What the Hell Happened?

And I realized it’s not even impossible that those of us who lived in Ray Charles’s time for a while might live to see it.

NEVER TRUST A NIHILIST…(Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #98)

…Way too many of them live to be 70.

And except for the true imbeciles, like Sid Vicious, and the truly lost, like Kurt Cobain, they’ll self-negate on you every time and turn into Show Biz Lifers, smiling on and watching you from afar.

Here’s John Waters (of Pink Flamingos fame), from the Feb. 13 edition of The Guardian, on the recent re-release of his first movie Multiple Maniacs:

“I’m not saying it hasn’t dated; it’s dated in way that it might be more appalling today than it was then. It was a punk rock movie. I look back on it now and think: ‘Oh my God, all this stuff about killing cops – not even the most radical group would say anything like that today.’ And you forget, in the 60s, ‘Off The Pig’ was a common slogan on a march, which is shocking today to look back on.”

Apparently, last summer’s rallying cry of “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon!” passed Waters by, as did the subsequent rash of assassinations of police officers (not a few of them black) which were only inspired by today’s “radicals” if you took one or two of the assassins at their word. Then again, Waters is a life-long resident of Baltimore, so it’s not like the descent into hell he longed for has come anywhere near his neighborhood. Easy to see how he missed it. I’m betting he can claim some of his best friends are black. And if he can’t, it’s only because the world is so racist.

Found the piece through a hard right site of course. Nihilists always resonate with their own kind.

The faker the better.

Me, I always prefer an answer record.

 

SPEAKING OF LOST WORLDS….(Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #97)

…which I do now and again and was just doing in my previous post about another teenage girl singing…here’s Tanya Tucker in 1974, just after her sixteenth birthday. The relevant moment starts at the 15.01 mark where she introduces her seventh single, which would become her first to fail to reach the country top ten.

After this one (buried in a label change, but still), she hit the top ten another five consecutive times (6 #1’s in all) before she turned eighteen.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t miss the past. I miss the future that never was. (For those who might want to watch the whole thing, she does a great “Delta Dawn” near the beginning and a jumping live version of “The Man Who Turned My Mama On” at the very end. There’s also some solid stuff from Billy Walker. I only pinpoint the relevant moment so you won’t have to sit through Ralph Emery blathering if you don’t want to.)

“THE VOICE” IN CONTEXT (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #96)

Back when Phil Spector started hiding his soon to be wife, Ronnie Bennett of the Ronettes,  from the world (and the Beatles), John Lennon would ask him “Where’s the Voice?”

When Brian Wilson first heard “Be My Baby,” the Ronettes’ first big hit, on the radio, he pulled off the road, and has said more than once that he’s played it every day since. He’s also said it wasn’t Phil Spector’s production that made the impact.

Ronnie herself reported her first meeting with Spector in her autobiography and described his response to first hearing her sing as something along the lines of “That’s it. That’s the voice I’ve been waiting for!”

Phil also frequently described himself as the only person who could have made Ronnie. or any of his other discoveries, stars, or at very least famous.

After reading Ronnie’s memoir years back (early nineties’ I’m guessing), I built some vague ideas and questions that had been rattling around in my head for about a decade (about how long it had been since I first heard “Be My Baby”), into a conclusion.

The conclusion: Phil Spector was the only person who could have kept Ronnie Bennett from becoming a superstar, and he used a three-step process. He signed her. Then he married her. Then he–no other word for it–tortured her.

You can read the book and find out the details–including the day John Lennon visited divorce court as a friend of both parties and came face to face with who Phil Spector really was.

Knowing all that, I still never quite understood “Be My Baby” as anything more than a great record with a great vocal.

Today, though, listening to the final volume of the Bear Family’s bottomless survey of “doo-wop,” broadly redefined as the vocal music of Black and Urban Immigrant America from 1938 to 1963, prepared for “Be My Baby” to fit the concept just like so many others (especially the early Motown acts, even including the Supremes and the Temptations) who aren’t usually included in the narrative had done.

I was still prepared for it when the famous intro, courtesy of Hal Blaine, brought the usual smile.

I wasn’t prepared for the Voice.

Having heard it a thousand times didn’t prepare me for it to cut through not only Spector’s gargantuan production, but every record that preceded it, not only on this final disc, but every disc that covered the twenty-five previous years. Today, on the way back from the doctor’s office, it hit me the way it must have hit Phil Spector, John Lennon, Brian Wilson….as something new and startling in the world.

It hit me as something completely new, no matter how much its similarities to Frankie Lymon and Brenda Lee were still obvious. They never had to fight Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and none of those who did ever made it sound so easy to blast a clean hole through it.

Today, Ronnie did.

Maybe it was the Bear Family’s famously superior mastering or having surround sound in the car or just the mood I was in (getting past my annual with the endo is always a relief).

Maybe it was just that the sprinkling of girl group records in the latter volumes of the series had made me rediscover how different the quality of female yearning was from any attitude copped by the boys of that or any era.

Whatever it was, today, like no day before, she was the Voice, maybe because the Lost World she represented seemed even more lost than all the other Lost Worlds surrounding her.

Be sure to stay tuned for the conversation which, among other things, covers their plans for the upcoming “Christmas album” which would be A Christmas Gift tor You from Philles Records (later Phil Spector), the greatest Christmas album ever made and, of course, released the day John Kennedy was assassinated…the day John Lennon had to step in and save us from.

You  know. For a while.

I really recommend reading Ronnie’s book, but for those who would like a shorthand version, you can go here for the gist.