HIGHER GROUND (Joni Sledge, R.I.P.)

On the passing of Joni Sledge of Sister Sledge, here’s a link to a nice interview she and her sister Debbie did a few years back It’s a good, if brief, insight into one of the major themes of this blog: the relationship between singers (especially female singers) and “svengali” producers (in this case Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards) in the studio. (As an aside, this does not include any discussion of the wrangling that went on over the lyrics to “He’s the Greatest Dancer” which the sisters originally objected to because it made them seem like “loose” women. Goodness, how far we’ve traveled from so many things which can no longer be imagined.)

…and here’s a nice moment in the spotlight for Joni (her sister Kathy, then 19, was the lead singer on “We Are Family,” one of the greatest vocals ever recorded–see below), ably filling in for Dionne Warwick.

and, lest I be remiss…

 

BABY THAT WAS ROCK AND ROLL….CONGRATULATIONS TO THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME’S CLASS OF 2016

I didn’t really get into to the voting this year, never got around to posting a fan ballot at either the Hall’s site (which has a small effect on the actual vote) or at the Future Rock Legends site. Just too busy and not enough invested in the nominees. The only nominee I had any deep feelings about was Joe Tex. Naturally he did not get in.

That said, a lineup like Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, Joan Baez, Journey, Yes, ELO (with Chic’s Nile Rodgers added in the Musical Excellence category) is about what we can now expect unless and until the Hall changes either its priorities or its parameters (say, to include a Contemporary Influence category where Joan Baez and, arguably, Tupac, more properly belong, and a Veteran’s Committee, to deal with the mostly black and/or female artists from the fifties, sixties and, increasingly, seventies who remain overlooked: see Joe Tex).

Come on out, one of the last great rock and roll Prophets once said, in the middle of the road.

Well, we’re there. And we’re likely to be stuck there for a while.

The greatest record made by any of the Performance Category artists was this one, which is kinda/sorta being honored through Roy Wood’s inclusion with ELO. Be sure to crank the volume.

But the greatest moment you can find on YouTube from these artists is from the band whose very inclusion on the ballot speaks to hopeless corruption of the process.

Anyone who thinks what happened in this clip was easily achieved hasn’t watched as many hundreds of Midnight Special performances as I have. The only other artist I’ve seen in all those clips who engaged that theater’s rather notoriously too-cool-for-school audience with anywhere near this ease and intensity was Al Green, who was the most spiritually intense performer of that age.

Baby that was rock and roll. And it never was easy to know where or when it would choose to put a smile on your face:

Oh, and I’m sorry the clip of “I’ve Seen All Good People” from the movie Dick isn’t on YouTube. Because that’s even more weirdly exhilarating.

Trust me.

THOUGHTS ON THE 2016 ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME NOMINEES

Since my first post on the Hall several years ago, at least a few of the acts I considered egregious oversights (Donna Summer, Linda Ronstadt, The “5” Royales) have found their way in. I’m confident I’ve had nothing whatsoever to do with this, except maybe cosmically, but the cosmos must be attended, so I take heart and keep plugging away. My lists of the most deserving not yet inducted are still very much the same and can be found HERE, HERE and HERE.

I try to do something a little different each year, simply because my relationship to each new batch of nominees is bound to change at least a little. This year, it’s a simple breakdown: 1) Acts (well, one anyway) who are in my own pantheon and therefore no-brainers; 2) Acts I have at least some strong feeling for, either because I think they filled some place in Rock History that can’t be entirely ignored or I just like their records a lot; and 3) Acts I don’t pretend to get.

So, in reverse order:

Acts I don’t pretend to get (or can at least easily eliminate from this particular ballot):

Nine Inch Nails and The Smiths: Charter members of the Gloom Squad, representativesof which, given the air of stagnation and hopelessness that began to dominate the culture in the late eighties and has continued to suck at our collective oxygen supply every single day since, we are almost certainly stuck with in perpetuity. If they are your thing, peace be upon you, but let’s do cancel the dinner reservations.

Yes: I really like “Roundabout.” But, as one record arguments go, it’s not exactly “La Bamba,” or “Summertime Blues.”

The J.B.s.: Very worthy. Please induct them immediately in the Musical Excellence or Sidemen category, as should have been done long ago. Can’t see spending a vote on them in the performer category.

Chicago: I’m at least a little torn on this one. I do like a lot of their records (more than I think I do actually, unless some event like this one forces me to focus). But I can’t say I’ve listened to them a lot so I just don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other. I will say their lack of critical respect and their capacity for annoying the crit-illuminati by selling millions of records hardly count against them in my book. That said, if the ice is beginning to thaw around the idea of acknowledging AM giants as a necessary and vital part of Rock and Roll History, give me Three Dog Night or the Fifth Dimension any day. Not to mention Tommy James.

Chaka Khan: I could see voting for her some time, especially if (as happened in the past) she was being considered along with her great interracial funk band, Rufus. But she might be one of those acts I can always consider voting for in theory who just never happens to crack the top five on any given ballot. Time will tell. BTW: Interracial funk bands have a way of getting overlooked by the Hall: Think War, Hot Chocolate, KC and the Sunshine Band. Apparently Sly and the Family Stone are enough for the “Hey I’m not really opposed to the concept” crowd. I’d like to see this change, so Rufus would be more likely to get my vote than Chaka alone.

Acts I’d at least strongly consider:

Janet Jackson: She’s a strong candidate and, as someone who generally chides the Hall for seriously slacking on recognition of women and black people, she should be a natural. She was a major superstar and I even like a lot of her records. I can’t say I ever had that special “moment” with her, though. There’s no one record that makes me pull her records off the shelf at least every once in  a while. Since this is very rare for me with any rock and roll act who had even a modest run of sustained success I have to be at least a little bit suspicious. Why Janet? Why aren’t we connecting like we should? Why are Chaka and Chicago in the not-ready-for-consideration category when no record you ever made is on a level with “Tell Me Something Good” or “Just You ‘n’ Me?”  Why does life hold so many mysteries? Withholding judgment on this one…

N.W.A.: The other act on this ballot who are considered a likely slam dunk. Overall that’s a good sign. I can’t remember the last time the two favorites going in were African-American. Wish I liked their music as well as their story. I mean, should burnishing my street cred feel so much like eating my broccoli? Or reading my Chomsky? Withholding….yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

Chic: Yes, yes they should be in. I love “Le Freak” unconditionally (as well as a number of Rodgers and Edwards’ productions for other artists) so there is no problem with the “connection” missing in the previous two entries. And yes, I’m probably going to vote for them. I still don’t quite get why they’ve been on the ballot ten times and Barry White and KC and the Sunshine Band have zero nominations between them…But I’m probably still going to vote for them. Let’s wait and see.

Deep Purple: I was keener on them until I started listening to Joe South again and realized his version of “Hush” not only wastes theirs on the, you know, emotional level where you except a singer-songwriter to have an advantage, but actually rocks harder. Still, they had a real role in making hard rock “heavy.” And I wouldn’t want to put together the classic rock comp that’s going to play on the Celestial Jukebox at the End of Time without “Highway Star” or “My Woman From Tokyo” somewhere in the mix.

Los Lobos: They made one truly great album. That was enough for Guns N’ Roses, whose great album wasn’t quite as great (though it sold a lot more and caused a lot more head-banging). It’s enough for me to certainly put them under strong consideration. I wish they were a little less professorial, of course. But if rock and roll is truly democratic, surely there must be room for the professors too….Mustn’t there?

Steve Miller: The Hall is often perverse. Should we even be surprised that this very long in coming nomination is for Miller alone and not The Steve Miller Band, which is the title under which he made his records? Sure there were a lot of different people in those bands, but the Hall has made room for similar aggregations before, so who knows what the thinking is. As for the records themselves, I’m obviously putting him ahead of Chicago, even if it’s only a hair. I’m hazy on his early, more critically acclaimed work. It was out of San Francisco so familiarity with it, might make me feel more strongly for or against (in a Grateful Dead, no, Jefferson Airplane maybe, CCR or Sly or Janis, yes, sort of way). Which leaves me wondering if the lead-in riff to “Jet Airliner” is enough to make him worthy all by itself? I lived the Seventies. I very specifically lived 1977. And I have to say it’s a very close call.

Cheap Trick and The Cars: Gee, not a month ago I was gently lamenting that I clearly liked Power Pop a lot better than the Hall did, and here they go and put two of the Big Five on the ballot at once. Granted I don’t listen to either as much as Big Star or Raspberries or the Go-Go’s, but they’re both fine bands and the Cars have the additional lift of being the most popular band in the little-genre-that-couldn’t-quite-save-rock-and-roll-but-sure-had-fun-trying. Hall worthy? Definitely. Possible to vote for one and not the other? Tough call. I think I can manage it. I think I’ll probably have to. Which one?….Which one, knowing that the chances of the three even greater bands being considered in the future ride heavily on how these two do? Which one, knowing that these two have the decided advantage of being mysteriously accepted at “classic rock” formats?…Oh, God.

NO-BRAINER:

Spinners: The premiere vocal group of the seventies, the last decade when the competition was fierce and the distinction therefore amounted to an epic accomplishment. Stop the nonsense. Stop dumping on seventies R&B. Stop dumping on vocal groups. Put them in already, so I can start banging the drum for the Stylistics and the Chi-Lites! (insert maniacal laughter here!)

Final ballot:

Spinners…

Los Lobos…

Cheap Trick….

Janet Jackson…

Chic…

(and a Rodgers and Edwards bonus….)

…First alternate, the Cars…

If you want to participate in fan balloting you can access the Future Rock Legends site here (you have to scroll down a bit). The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s actual ballot, which has a very small effect on actual voting (but, I suspect, may have a very real effect on considerations for future nominees) is here.

 

 

 

 

NASHVILLE CHIC (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #53)

The history of race in Nashville is as long and complicated as anywhere else in America, only maybe a little more so. There’s plenty of blame for the less savory aspects to go around, but here’s a nice reminder, from Chic’s Nile Rodgers, that the “complexity” has always been far less about artists or audience than about the suits running a protectionist racket.

Just like everywhere else:

When they describe Chic as a “sub-genre” of rock and roll, I go, “A sub-genre?” Everything is a sub genre of what rock and roll used to be! None of those bands sound like the early rock and roll artists! I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and it was unbelievable. I felt like I was at the Museum of Natural History, it was the most moving thing, I was brought to tears. And I learned so much about country music and the history, and they had no problem acknowledging the contributions of black people and addressing the racism. The curator said, “We changed it to ‘country and western’ so white people would buy it!”* I didn’t expect that! I thought it was really brave to address that, because people don’t want to talk about that. It was a history lesson….

Donna Summer influenced me to start playing this kind of music [disco]; and then Donna Summer, who lived in Westport, Conn., which is where I live, moved to Nashville. I, then, went to Nashville, and I started hanging out with Big and Rich and all these guys. They’re great, amazing and fun. And then I went to the museum and… very few things make you feel like an American. They really acknowledged the history. I felt very, very comfortable there, around people from country music.

(Entire interview is here)

*Actually, they changed it to “Country and Western” to replace “Hillbilly,” a marketing phrase that had its own set of problems but was hardly in danger of being interpreted as “not for white people.” I did mention it was complicated didn’t I? But that shouldn’t obscure Rodgers’ larger point.

I found the interview by accident while I was researching some details for a theoretical upcoming post on My Favorite Albums by Artists Who Have Never Been Nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think by typing that phrase I’ve now officially committed to moving from theoretical to actual in the next day or two…Til then, a taste of what black people almost kinda sorta got past the suits in Nashville back when: