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inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #51 of 149: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #52 of 149: 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.  
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #53 of 149: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #54 of 149: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #55 of 149: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #56 of 149: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #57 of 149: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #58 of 149: Berliner (captward) Wed 12 Oct 05 06:17
    
Not that anyone would want his life these days...
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #59 of 149: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #60 of 149: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #61 of 149: 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.  
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #62 of 149: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #63 of 149: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #64 of 149: Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Wed 12 Oct 05 13:09
    

How popular was Elvis across racial lines when he came out?
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #65 of 149: Chuck Charlton (chuck) Wed 12 Oct 05 13:13
    
I wasn't aware that he came out.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #66 of 149: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #67 of 149: 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."
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #68 of 149: Carl LaFong (mcdee) Wed 12 Oct 05 14:01
    
There's a great anecdote in the book about Gershwin writing Porgy and
Bess.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #69 of 149: Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Thu 13 Oct 05 01:51
    <scribbled by jonsson Thu 13 Oct 05 01:58>
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #70 of 149: Black Indians/Samba/Hendrix/Blasters (jonsson) Thu 13 Oct 05 01:53
    <hidden>
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #71 of 149: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #72 of 149: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #73 of 149: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #74 of 149: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #75 of 149: 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.
  

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