Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Tue 11 Oct 05 17:37
Fascinating stuff, Carl -- and evidence that we continue to draw inspiration from each others' work -- whether or not it's considered "stealing." By the way, the audio of our panel discussion is going to air on KGSR Wednesday night, October 26 as the featured topic of our ongoing series, "Focus." You can listen in at KGSR.com on the web. There'll be music as well, so it won't seem so academic and dry. What's really gratifying is that the Nevilles knew neither Lyle nor Chris, and by the end, they were all exchanging phone numbers. That's the kind of thing I'm looking to promote in the world, and what made "Souled American" worth writing.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Tue 11 Oct 05 19:01
I shudder to mention the name, but Michael Jackson managed to succeed enormously as a cross-over artist -- far beyond anything Hendrix achieved in dollars and cents terms. And yeah, a problematic case because he's nuts and because he's sculpted himself (literally) to look like a white person or maybe like Diana Ross. But I don't think his craziness is why he was so successful, although there may be a connection. I think part of what connects Hendrix and Jackson is that they made music that, by and large, did not automatically make you think "this is a black record" before you decided whether you liked it or not. To pick an example who was at or near their level of talent but stuck to a much more recognizably ethnic style, consider Marvin Gaye. "What's Going On" remains one of my favorite albums, and there is certainly universal appeal to the music, but if you're white, you're probably not at the party that makes up the ambient sounds at the beginning of the title track. It's an ethnic record in the same sense that something by Los Tigres del Norte or Roscoe Holcomb is an ethnic record. If you're not part of that ethnic group, you can feel appreciation and even a solidarity with the sentiments expressed but it's not music made for you. To achieve the sort of mass crossover success Hendrix and Jackson achieved, you have to be seen as someone who is not solely defined by his or her ethnic group, and your music can't be totally steeped in your ethnic style. And what's white about Hendrix? Well, what's particularly black about "All Along the Watchtower" or "Crosstown Traffic" or "The Wind Cries Mary?" Or to "Billy Jean" or (God help us) "Ben?" And to go back earlier in Jackson's career, it's hard to imagine anyone doing "ABC" as well as Michael Jackson, but it is not hard to imagine any number of groups or artists recording the song. I think I'll pass at least for now, on the deeper swamps of black/white identity posed by rap.
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Wed 12 Oct 05 00:31
Rik, for white influences on black music you might take a look at 'One Nation Under a Groove' by Gerald Early. In it he describes how Gordy consciously worked with getting the sweet spot in cross-over right. To the extent it is hard to say if anything Marvin Gaye did not have some white target by fundemental internalized rote of the path set by Motown. Also there is another book out called 'A Change has gotta come' by Craig Werner, where he works the concept of 'call and response' between charts, across oceans and between 'races'. I don't think Rik is entirely on the wrong track, because there is that realm, perhaps more important than appropiation, called validation, and certainly what we seem to have going on is cross-validation stretching across several centuries now. If you lock into the confines of America and popular music you only get part of the picture, you may also need to look at the cross polenation of religion, share cropping, the visual arts, and the signals triggered not only from the UK, but from other countries as well, including France (ie. Paris), Italy (ie. Milan), Germany and Latin America. Certainly the answers that surface or further questions that emerge are based on the questions asked, these days the polarized realm of the appropriation question is perhaps subjected to the far more common reality of cross-validation. Stardom is one thing, community is another, rock music serves in some instance the former better. Gospel and Folk music in fact may serve a better model for community. When one steps to the mic of the popular music machine, if it at Stax or at Elektra they are no longer thinking entirely about community (or if they are it is a far more global view), they are though definately least on foot into the 'industry'. Perhaps in the end though the question will not be how white or black Hendrix was but that he was 'American', or what is also emerging as a comparible cosmopolitan identity with 2nd generation Afro-Europeans in the post-colonial world. By nature a certain percentage of the artists that emerge from these backgrounds are not really thinking about crossing over, they already are 'over' they just want to sing about it. At least that has been what I've gathered from recent interviews with a few Afro-American and Afro-European DJs and recording artists. So what is central? Seattle?, Chicago?, Birmingham (UK or US)?, Lagos?. The historical map is clarified now by nature of the grid. Central is now virtual by nature of the electron, so now it really seems to be more about call and response once you plug that mic into the grid. And perhaps that is what it always has been about. On the otherhand community continues to be served, they though are separate yet intertwined and in many instances complementary lifeforms.
it was already on fire when I got here! (jet) Wed 12 Oct 05 01:13
Apologies for not having read your book yet, I have a list of must-haves to read for school and work right now. Has mentioned Charley Pride yet? I worked at a country and western station in Louisiana during the early-80s, and Charley Pride was in pretty regular rotation during my graveyard shift. It wasn't a matter of white guilt or revolutionary activism that led me to play his records, it was the both the fact that he was on our rotation list and the number of (white) listners who called in to request his songs that got his tracks on the air. Any ideas on what led to his success? Was he effectively a novelty act? My take was that he was a good enough artist that his race didn't matter, but I was an idealistic young punk back then.
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Wed 12 Oct 05 01:20
Some more notes: I'm not saying 'ghettos' don't exist anymore, it seems to me though these days maybe these are economic and political disaster zones, rather than areas completely constructed, defined or answered by identity. So is the 'ghetto' real or percieved might be part of the question. The deference between real and percieved is sort of like percieving if you have food or not, or on another level if you have all your digits to enable you to get to water. So at some point in time you need to decide if you talking about economics, music, psychic phenomena or what? As to 'misunderstanding' perhaps shouldn't we remain very worried about a toolbox the ancient generals called the 'divide and conquer' kit?
Berliner (captward) Wed 12 Oct 05 01:31
To get to one of <rik>'s points above, the white influence on black music has been profound. Most of the music we think of as "old timey" string-band music is incredibly complex in its weaving of English/Celtic folk and pre-blues black input. Almost none of the black string-band music has survived, since its practitioners died off before recording came on the scene, but I have an amazing CD (Altamont, on Rounder) drawn from glass 78s recorded by black folklorist John Work in the '30s of surviving old guys playing this stuff, and I love to play it for people who invariably guess it's white musicians. We mustn't forget that blues only came along around 1900, and although its influence on all American music is huge, and although the "blue" notes were a part of African-American practice (apparently: again, this is pre-recording, but we can guess from writen accounts) probably from the beginning, that wasn't all that was going on. After all, the banjar is a traditional instrument coming from the area now known as Sierra Leone in Africa. Further, once recording and broadcasting started, people would gather around radios and consume *whatever* entertainment came through the box. Many, many black performers acknowledge the influence the Grand Ole Opry had on their work, and a number of soul performers -- I'm thinking specifically of Bobby "Blue" Bland, who recorded a whole country album in the '70s, Solomon Burke, Ivory Joe Hunter, Otis Williams, Don Covay, Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams, among many others -- have made explicit homage to the country music they heard as youngsters. Otis Williams (of Otis Williams and the Charms, a black vocal group from the '50s) recorded a stone country album with Pete Drake, the Dogg got CMA Songwriter of the Year for "She's All I Got" after Johnny Paycheck recorded it, and Burke had a huge hit with "Just Out of Reach." Oh, and that Ray Charles guy. Forgot about him. And this doesn't even get into the fact that most jazz is built on an equal foundation of blues and show tunes. As <mcdee> points out, too, this influence extends past American borders. A lot of those sweet harmonies in reggae groups like the Ethiopians have country roots, and when I was in Jamaica for the first time in '75, I remember going to Randy's Records, Kingston's main record store, and seeing tons and tons of Jim Reeves and Louvin Brothers albums there (shoulda bought the latter, dammit), and the guy behind the counter saying he couldn't keep them in stock. (No wonder; they'd been out of print for years). As for Hendrix, part of his genius was taking what he'd learned in show bands in Nashville, where he worked for many years, and on the road with Little Richard, Don Covay, and the Isley Brothers, and (at least at first) using it in the loud-guitar-rock tradition, which was *not* how the great black guitar virtuosos -- BB King, Albert King, Muddy Waters -- presented their material. Hendrix was *all* about instrumental virtuosity, the other guys were about songs where they got to play their guitars. This explains to me, anyway, why Hendrix wasn't much as a songwriter, especially on the lyrical end. <jet> and <jonsson> slipped in, with <jet> reminding me that I wanted to mention the late, great Stoney Edwards, who was, as a singer, Merle Haggard's equal, and whose autobiographical song "Blackbird" never got any airplay because of the chorus talking about "just a couple of country niggers" at the rodeo: Stoney and his father. But yes, Charlie Pride, too.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Wed 12 Oct 05 05:34
Yeah, I think the obvious reason "no one has made it like Hendrix" is he was such a superlative player, and I agree with Ed that this is largely the foundation of his appeal. In jazz, no one has made it like Lester Young lately either.
Berliner (captward) Wed 12 Oct 05 06:17
Not that anyone would want his life these days...
Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Wed 12 Oct 05 06:25
Darrell, I think you're on the edge of what's corroding America from the inside out right now, and while your logic is dead on with race, there's an ugly extrapolation possible. You're correct that the ghetto is no longer simply a place on the map; it's a construct that floats out there in the ether where the deprirvation is much more elusive and hidden in economic injustice. And to take that point one step further, it's why the next civil war here is really between urban and rural Americans. Please note that in the 2004 presidential election, the nation tilts heavily blue in urban centers and heavily red the more rural the community. This is the United States of the new millennium. As to Charley Pride, I didn't get any returned calls, unfortunately, so there's no new interview with him in the book. Willie Nelson talks about Pride opening a Williefest by gamely announcing from center stage, "I bet you're all wondering what this fella with a permanent tan is doing here. All we ask is that you give us a chance to entertain you and sing a few songs." There's also a very insightful exchange between Ray Benson (Asleep At the Wheel) and Lyle Lovett, in which Lyle talks about country music not necessarily speaking to the black impulse in America. Benson talks about Pride's appeal coming from his aw-shucks humility (which Willie Nelson echoes) and his willingness to play the "Good ol' boy" -- with ALL that that implies. While both Lovett and Benson agree that Ray Charles did break the color barrier, Benson wisely points out that Ray didn't perform the songs as country, but as R&B, leaving Charley Pride without much company as America's sole black country superstar.
Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Wed 12 Oct 05 06:38
Ed rightly points out that black musicans were playing in a wide variety of styles with stringed instruments in America centuries before the blues coalesced, and that black contributions to reels and folk tunes is woven deeply into their roots. Trying to separate white from black here is very much like trying to take a pot of cooked spaghetti and get it straightened out and put back in a box. To further amplfiy Ed's point, Deford Bailey was a black harmonica player with the Grand Ol' Opry for the better part of 20 years, and innumerable musicians and devoted fans took inspiration from both his playing and mere presence on the Nashville stage. Loved what you had to say about Jamaica, Ed. I didn't know any of that.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Wed 12 Oct 05 07:01
A couple of interesting connections in that vein... "Drunken Spree," recorded by Skip Spence, shows up in the white country cannon as "Way Downtown." And the old brother band song (at least that's where I know it from) "Ida Red" became Maybellene for Chuck Berry.
Berliner (captward) Wed 12 Oct 05 08:30
Both Bob Wills and Jack Guthrie (Woody's more commercially successful brother) had hits with "Ida Red." Another great crossover band: the Mississippi Sheiks. There are *how many* recordings of "Sitting on Top of the World?" But they wrote it. And another white contribution to black music: "Goodnight Irene" wasn't written by Lead Belly, but, rather, by a for-hire songwriter in Cincinnati before the turn of the century. Lead Belly's uncle had piano sheet music for it. Just miscellaneous stuff. As for the concept of ghetto, although nearly everybody in Berlin is fairly well-off by American urban standards, there's a *lot* of talk about "the ghetto" here, because they've picked it up second-hand from hip-hop and believe it's cool.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Wed 12 Oct 05 09:29
I'm very fond of the 70s incarnation of ghetto cool -- that UK compilation titled "Blaxploitation" that came out a few years ago was killer, and I tracked down every volume. One thing that's happened to the concept over the years is that the age of the target audience has moved down. 70s urban soul addressed the dilemmas of young (and sometimes not so young) adults in a ghetto environment ("Makes Me Wanna Holler"), whereas at least classic gangsta rap documents (or imagines and celebrates) the reality of hormonally-overdosed teens.
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Wed 12 Oct 05 13:09
How popular was Elvis across racial lines when he came out?
Chuck Charlton (chuck) Wed 12 Oct 05 13:13
I wasn't aware that he came out.
Lisa Rhodes (lisarhodes) Wed 12 Oct 05 13:29
Darrell, there is a great book on Elvis fans that addresses, at least in a couole of places, his popularity across racial lines. It is "Elvis Culture: Fans, Faith, & Image" by Erika Doss http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/doselv.html (for you, Ed) It is an academic format book, so it has some wonderfully documented sources. One aspect of Hendrix's popularity that no one has addressed was the sheer number of folks in the baby boom cohort that made up his fans. There simply has never been a larger, or more affluent, cohort of people move through American culture. The ripples are still being felt (I'm thinking retirement here) but wherever they focus their attention in popular culture they make a similar wave. When they were kids, it was rock music.
Melodious Thunk (sjs) Wed 12 Oct 05 13:54
Hi Kevin. I just got a copy of your book and I'm looking forward to reading it. I'm fascinated with this discussion so far. I find the exploration of what's "black" and "white" a difficult topic. In the mail earlier this week I received an ad for the Washington Opera's production of PORGY AND BESS -- and I thought about all of this. I wondered how Gershwin writing about black people was received. Is P & B white music? for what it's worth, here's a link to the Washington Opera's page about this show: <http://www.dc-opera.org/seasoncalendar/opera05_porgy.asp?perf=827>. I note how the page makes no direct racial reference. Here's how the music is described: "The delightful score is Tin Pan Alley, jazz and blues, folk, and modern symphony orchestra melded into the embodiment of musical America."
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Wed 12 Oct 05 14:01
There's a great anecdote in the book about Gershwin writing Porgy and Bess.
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Thu 13 Oct 05 01:51
<scribbled by jonsson Thu 13 Oct 05 01:58>
Black Indians/Samba/Hendrix/Blasters (jonsson) Thu 13 Oct 05 01:53
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Thu 13 Oct 05 01:58
>I like this topic even though I can't quite pin down what it >is about, why or where it is going. So I'm hiding my >andetotes/fragments/ rants and putting questions up front. 1. So isn't what is called 'rockabilly' and early Elvis where a black/white synthesis or crossover happens, if anywhere in C&W? I feel though Kevin maybe expressing a concern about a danger zone somewhere in it all. 2. <Kevin> are you perhaps sensing some hiding place or american social ritual that temporarily soothes the psyche while returning the practitioners in short-term back to an unchanged reality. And like some kind of narcotic experience distracts rather than informs the users towards any midterm or longterm healing or solutions? 3. Is your focus as well on the corners, even perhaps cul-de-sacs of music created by identity groups where synthesis is de-emphasised?
Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Thu 13 Oct 05 08:06
Again, for the purposes of moving the conversation forward, let me address what I think you're getting at, Carl. Very astute observations, by the way... There are two differing opinions expressed about early rock and roll given voice in the book. Carl Perkins calls r'n'r a combination of the "countryman's song and the black man's rhythm." Little Richard believed rock 'n' roll was only "rhythm and blues played uptempo," and Louis Jordan had the most pointed observation of all: "Rock and roll was just a white imitation; a white adaptation of Negro rhythm and blues." He then bitched (and justifiably so) that he'd have white musicians hanging around him 24-7, to pick up whatever they could from him -- and then he couldn't go into the places where they were playing what they'd learned from him, because he was black. Darrell, you are poking at the most sensitive nerve at the core of this project in your next statement. There's something elemental in the white fascination with blackness, and somehow that manifests very clearly in music. On the one hand, blacks (especially black men) are still thought of far too often in our society as lazy, shiftless, irresponsible and concerned only with the instant gratifications that life can bring. On the other hand, they're also considered so much more in touch with their bodies, so much more comfortable in being who they really are, and defiantly so -- operating from a tribal moral code that is older and somehow more deeply rooted than actual laws on the books or the prevailing social mores of the day. So there you have it. Over and over again, demonstrations of disgust and envy -- and sometimes both coming from the same group of middle class Americans. I believe the same impulse that had our great-great-great-grandparents wanting to get up onstage in blackface, strum the banjo and do the hambone are the same impulses coursing through our society today when young white kids want to wear baggy jeans and have four inches of expensive underwear showing above them. Insofar as the focus of the book is concerned, it follows commercial trends as best possible. In a book of less than 350 pages, this seemed like the best path to follow. First, it gave me at least the possibility that most people would be familiar with the music and the artists under discussion, and second, by using dozens of celebrity interviews, I thought it might make the project more appealing to mainstream readers who'd shy away from the book if they felt it's approach was academic. There are some areas that I'm sure a few readers would consider cul-de-sacs (black theater at the turn of the 19th century, for one), but that would perhaps be for them to say. I labored very deliberately to make the book enrolling rather than exclusionary, and a few readers have told me they'd have preferred it had I ventured a little further afield than I did, with more detail about Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane than are included, or more detail on things like electronica -- trance, house and other subsets of post-disco danceclub music.
Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Thu 13 Oct 05 08:12
Darrell, the stuff about the New Orleans Indians is absolutely riveting, too. There's another book topic right there -- the masks we use, their prevalence around the world, and trying to grapple with why they're important to us. One reason may well be to gain a temporary different perspective on reality -- breathe some air that's uncluttered by all the preconceptions we've built up through the daily routines of meeting the obligations we have of simply being ourselves. As mentioned in the book, this sounds like exactly the mindset that led Paul McCartney to create Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Thu 13 Oct 05 08:16
I read those quotes from Jordan in the book with both interest and sadness. Jordan was an utterly forgotten figure by the time I started seriously exploring music in the late 60s, and most unjustly so. Despite following my nose to a lot of music much more obscure than Jordan, I wasn't really aware of him until Joe Jackson did that wonderful album of Jordan covers in the early 80s.
Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Thu 13 Oct 05 08:18
Again, my apologies for my errors of grammar and spelling in the posts. I really will try to remember to proofread. Enthusiasm gets the better of me, I'm afraid.
Members: Enter the conference to participate