Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Maine DJ & Radio Scene: Half There And Half Square?

wkit                  As with just about any young person growing up in anywhere America during the 1980’s,I’d have to count myself as part of the last American generation whose musical interests were deeply affected by the radio. As maudlin and funereal as that might sound,it was something of a necessity in New England. Even than most commercial radio stations were very limited in their approach. Being someone interested in the music of the funk/soul/R&B/jazz spectrum? The only musical outlet local radio in my area offered this would’ve been through either European new wave era groups and soloists having soul/funk oriented hits such as Duran Duran’s “Notorious” but also with the big hits of artists such as Michael Jackson,Prince and Whitney Houston. In terms of the black population/DJ culture of the area? There was absolutely no DJ culture in that regard. And as far as the black population? I assumed it was only my mother. And that wasn’t an entirely inaccurate outlook either. One thing Bangor Maine did have at that time was Stephen King.

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King and his wife Tabitha own the Zone Corporation-a  part of which is the rock radio station WKIT,which was  founded in 1979.. This is one of the few radio stations that  still has a live local announcer in the studio 24 hours a day,  however on the weekends they carry some  syndicated programming.  After the turn of the  millennium,WKIT also adapted to the digital age by  streaming their programming on the internet via the official  station website. Their personalities include the “Rock and Roll Morning  Show” hosts Bobby Russell and Mark “The Shark” Young,  midday host Jason “Rock Dog” Roberts, afternoon host  Scotty Moore, evening host Dave Isaac, overnight host Rob  Greene, and news anchor Paul Allen. As time has marched on  however, WKIT has oriented itself more and more towards  the oldies based format in their playlists. King has openly  voiced his views on the continuation of live radio DJ’s and their place in promoting music-which I feel is extremely laudable. However their format does seem to be mainly based in the “classic rock” music of their particular generation. Of course soul/R&B/funk is almost totally excluded. Some of the people involved in the station (King himself may or may not have been excluded from this) very likely supported the racist and homophobic “disco sucks” attitude of the early 80’s. And much 70’s/80’s era soul,funk and R&B has been seen only under that moniker. Even so,there is always a place for the blues on WKIT-both old and new. So that door is at least halfway open.

WERU Logo 2012 - PMS 286 Blue

 On May 1’st,1988 WERU FM first began broadcasting out of one area of an old hen house located in Orland-not too far from its base town of the fairly large coastal town of Blue Hill. Folk icon Paul Stookey was a major benefactor of this major breakthrough in non commercial,independent radio  in the state of Maine. In 1997 the station moved it’s operations from the hen house to a more traditional facility in the same town but directly on U.S Route 1-linking the state to traffic from across the country. Every Thursday at 2-4PM the station carries the X-Large Soul Show. This showcases primarily new and often independent music from soul,R&B and blues acts-with some lesser known oldies thrown in for good measure. The one difficulty WERU has it that,to this day it still operates at an effective radiated power of 11,500 watts. In a state consisting of huge amounts of undeveloped rural land connected by conflicting signals from other radio and TV transmitter,sub stations and cellular phone towers,WERU can be somewhat difficult to receive on both its translators. Especially if one happens to be in transit in their vehicle between one town/city or another.

WMEB

WMEB,91.9 FM actually began its life 50 years ago this month as a strictly on campus collage radio specifically for the University Of Maine in the town of Orono. Becoming primarily known as a progressive rock/AOR oriented radio format during the 1970’s,WMEB spent the next three decades developing a strong and diverse format somewhat similar to WERU and some of the collage stations out of Maine’s larger towns and cities such as Portland,Waterville and its capitol Augusta. For a long time they specialized in playing vinyl records. And a good part of my vinyl collection came from a giveaway they presented to the public of their entire vinyl record catalog in 1994 when they were ceasing use of this format.  This alternative oriented format began to strongly embrace DJ culture during the early years of the millennium. It was here I met Nigel Hall-than a DJ with his own funk/soul/jazz show on WMEB moonlighting with the local band Funkizon,now a moderately successful session musician who was a member of Soulive for a time. It was through Nigel’s influence that my interest in the jazz end of funk music expanded so greatly of course. Though the years since have found WMEB specializing more and more on the popular Maine Black Bears collage ice hockey radio coverage,a possible local jazz/funk underground was beginning to spring from this station in 2003-2004; the earliest years of Nigel’s show when he even managed to secure on air interviews with musicians Jan Hammer and George Duke-the latter of which I had the privilege of participating in.

While a long time DJ at the local public radio station one Rich Tozier has maintained his Friday Night Jazz show,though I believe now airing on Sundays,Tozier is very proudly an acoustic jazz traditionalist who excludes anything fusion and jazz/funk oriented from his playlist due to his own lack of interest-focusing instead on replaying the music of be-bop era jazz icons.  A good deal of the stations I talked about here,however do not attract a very wide audience of listeners. And are generally dependent on local benefactors and fund drives to stay financially afloat. Generally it is the commercial country music stations that tend to draw the widest audience where I live. In a way the DJ/radio scene in Maine has been,and continues to be rather based on its demographic. Being that even today over half of the landmass of the United States of America is still very rural it is primarily the homegrown musical variations on  folk,country and blues musics that continue to be the driving force of local radio in places such as Northeastern Maine.  While these music’s certainly have their value,people moved musically by music within more of the jazz/soul/funk spectrum face many challenges in either being a radio listener or even one of the endangered species of DJ being in such an area. Often I ask myself: it is a challenge worth facing? Or has its time come to pass? Perhaps that question is more important than it’s answer.

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Hey Mr. DJ : Is there any role for the Selector in Modern Musical enjoyment? By Henrique Hopkins

imageListening to music in the 21st Century is often a solitary exerience. Self selected, curated, and suited to the individual tastes of a lone listener, this era has been hailed as one of unlimited choice and autonomy. This is a development that has been a long time coming, accelerated by useful devices such as childrens 45 rpm toy record players, the cassette walkman, and finally reaching its apex in MP3’s, MP3 players, and computerized radio stations such as Pandora, which has the benefit of a huge amount of music information. All luddite notions aside, I’m sure all appreciate the control and interactivity this new world of musical self pleasuring provides us, however, it does not eliminate the need for individuals to lovingly and passionately curate, promote, and introduce us to music we might not otherwise be aware of. This is a function that has been expanded through the modern means of sharing information, including blogs, podcasts and vlogs.  The game of radio itself has changed, as many radio stations in urban locations are controlled by entities such as Clear Channel, which owns some 1,200 stations and counting. All of this was made possible by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which made media cross ownership and the ability to own multiple stations possible. There has been a trend at these mega stations, to drain the local character out of radio. A drive from Seattle, to San Francisco, to Los Angeles, to Houston provides essentially the same radio formats, with different voices doing very limited announcing. This current trend pays little respect to the vital role popular personality D.J’s have played in the promotion, production, and at times, creation of music from Jazz, to Rock & Roll, Soul, to R&B and even Gospel.

imageIn the Bay Area of Northern California where I’m based, there has been a long tradition of great personality D.J’s, including funk and pop musical pioneer Sly Stone. As big radio gobbles up stations however, many popular D.J’s are finding radio has no home for them.  Three long standing popular and influential jocks I grew up with on local airwaves have been let go or forced out of their positions over the past decade or so, including DJ’s Chuy Gomez and Davey D at KMEL, and “Cousin” Kevin Brown at KBLX. These Jocks were cherished both for their diverse and soulful musical tastes as well as their community involvement and activism. These Jocks were very special to me in particular because they represented a cross roads of generational attitude and musics. They came to prominence in the age of hip hop and more modern R&B, but they were raised in the worlds of soul, jazz, and funk. Davey D in particular had been around in NYC at the dawn of hip hop and was also very active in helping make albums like Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet.”  These jocks also played a wide variety of music, from the old school sounds of Roger & Zapp, to the millenial sounds of Drake. Over at KBLX, we had a reliable source for so called “smooth jazz” music, with Kevin Brown serving not only as popular drive time DJ, but also station director. To this day, when a new album by George Benson, Narada Michael Walden, ConFunkShun, Marcus Miller, Lalah Hathaway, Robert Glasper, Esperanz Spalding,  and many artists of that quality ilk is released, I wonder just who’s going to play it over the airwaves so that somebody who might not hear it otherwise can get the benefit of hearing it?

I can understand the change in jocks as another technologically based disruption in the American work force as we march through the 21st Century. People in the high profile music industry are not immune to the workplace instability other working people face, though they’re usually better compensated. Many A&R departments, record stores, heads of departments, vanity labels, radio stations, promo men, sound engineers, and studio musicians have lost their positions or been shut down over the last three decades of technological change in the music industry. Remarkably in this environment, live music thrives as one thing that can not be so easily reproduced. Stations look at big popular personality D.J’s as an unnecessary element that also is very expensive, in this age of free agency. Also, there is a matter of ageism here as well. In earlier years, middle aged figures like Rufus Thomas, Don Cornelius and Dick Clark continued to promote youth oriented programing, presenting a youthful image while also serving as role models. But the post MTV era has been moving toward a line of “kids selling to kids” more and more as the years go on. Such a trend was evident at BET when they got rid of Free and AJ at their popular “106 & Park” show in order to make way for younger hosts. The power DJ’s have held over the years might be an issue too, as DJ such as Wolfman Jack and Alan Freed basically built up huge reps and empires that they were able to promote regardless of which station they were attached to and that also served to make DJ’s very valuable free agents whenever they left a station.

Yet, I’m not one who sees the human disc jockey as disposable. In a world of so much social confusion and turmoil, I really don’t see the value in eliminating or minimizing ANOTHER cultural voice.  This is a point that has both musical and extra musical ramifications. in the Jamaican street music culture that helped spawn hip hop, the street DJ’s were known as “Selectors.” While radio DJ’s might not have had the freedom to choose records as much as club DJ’s might have, they certainly helped turn on people to records they didnt know about. One example of this is the great New York City DJ Frankie Crocker. Crocker was suave, smooth, articulate, handsome and a real legend of the New York City scene. He was a close friend of James Brown, and can even be heard providing M.C duties on Brown’s second “Live at the Apollo album.”  Crocker could be wrong about records now, famously telling Brown he found  “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” “harsh”, when Brown brought it to him originally. But when he was right about a record, was he ever right.  The suave and smooth Crocker was a habituate of fashionable underground New York disco’s.  On one of his trips there, he heard a French import record, Cameroonian sax man Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa”, an energetic mix of modern Cameroonian dance music and American funk and soul. This was a record that was making people go crazy in the nightclubs but radio would not touch. Crocker picked up on the frenzy the record was causing in the clubs and inserted it onto his playlist at WBLS, sending the record to gold and launching a million cover versions, of a record that has since gone on to become both a classic of funk music, and one of the earliest penetrations of “World Music” on the American dance market. The songs chant “Mama se Mama Sa Mama Makossa” has become integrated in the culture through Michael Jacksons smash “Wanna Be Startin Something.” The success of the great “Soul Makossa” is just one of many examples of how a wordly, well traveled, hands on DJ can creatively alter the course that music is running on at any given time.

D.J’s such as Jocko Henderson were also important cultural figures. Jocko was known as the “father of R&B” and was rell regarded for his rapping style. He took be bop era jazz language and rhythms and crafted a style of  rhythmically speaking in rhyme that influenced many DJ’s and artists. George Clinton was well known for using Jocko’s rhyme: “A diddy op/oh its the jock/and I’m back on the scene/with a wrecking machine/sayin/ooh papa do/how ya’ll do?”  Jocko’s influence on rap was so clear that he himself released a rap record on Sugarhill Records in the early ’80s.  Maybe even more substantial, was Jocko’s role in community service, as he was an active advocate of education. Radio D.Jing has also served as a platform for moving into the music business as an artist, as displayed by the careers of B.B King, Rufus Thomas, Sly Stone and Ike Turner.

James Brown was well aware of the power to reach people of radio. He purchased radio stations, not only as a way to promote his own records, but also as a way to put out community service announcements. But even before Brown got involved in the business on that side, he was always one of the Jock’s favorite artists. He made sure to subsidize Jock’s income in various ways, such as promoting shows in concert with them. When the payola scandal rocked the radio industry, he understood it to be more a function of how little jocks were paid than corruption. Of course, the payola scandal and the practice of paying to play records may be what might cause one to say “music is better of without D.J’s”. But the money needed to play in expensive mediums used to promote music now such as video and reality TV cost even more than what was paid out to jocks.

Last year, there was a plethora of great music released by artists such as Foreign Exchange, Janelle Monae, Thundercat, and many other artists. The music all found its way to me through every possible medium, such as blogs, social networking sites, and internet shopping sites. However, listening to the sad state of music on the radio, I still feel its a shame some of this great music is not on the public radio where everybody can hear it and music of such quality can become a part of the public lexicon. The old day’s of the Jocks might never be coming back, but there are things and lessons we can learn from them in this world of MP3’s and blogs. Maybe we can develop more interesting vocal styles with our podcasts and YouTube vlogs, incorporating local expressions, slang, news and locales. Listening parties can be held where we gather like minded friends together to listen to new music. Our podcasts can be structured more creatively, almost like radio shows, with new music, a mixture of genres, and maybe even some local news and issues read, and maybe we can invite more guests on our podcasts, including local artists and politicians. There is a club in Oakland , Era Artbar, that has a fun and innovative night where people can sign a list and play ten songs off vinyl records for the club audience to hear. All of these are small things we can do to carry on the D.J tradition as serious fans of music who accept the responsibility of providing context for music and rebuilding the communities through the communicative power of song.

The Great R&B DJ and Pioneer of the art of rapping, Jocko Henderson

The Great R&B DJ and Pioneer of the art of rapping, Jocko Henderson

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Welcome To A New Year And A New Blog!

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    I would like to welcome everyone to Andresmusictalk,my newest blog here on WordPress. This blog is going to serve as a collaborative effort between myself and Henrique Hopkins-a main inspiration for creating my first blog here The Rhythmic Nucleus. For those of you who familiar with that blog,it was primarily focused on funk music and its many tributaries. Since of course my own personal musical pallet of interests is very eclectic,the topics on that blog began to drift into different musical territories.

          The purpose of this blog is to expand the level of dialog regarding the full spectrum of music. Regarding its history,creation,generational potency and anything else of interest in that regard. Just about every musical form on Earth bleeds into each other over time. The “rhythmic nucleus” of it all likely began in Africa. But it has spread across the world over millennium after millennium in a symphonic gumbo-with each subculture of humanity making wonderful new contributions as it goes. If that sounds like a big deal,it is. And music grows into even more of a big deal as time progresses.

           The levels of experience and perceptions of music between Henrique and myself have many similarities. Yet our environments have shaped them in very different ways between us. This will be an important element in our two literary styles that will be presented here. And to paraphrase one of Henrique’s own quotations,this will also serve as a possible springboard for broader articles that might one day find they’re way into the realm of professional publication. So as the two of us continue to grow as human beings,so will go the breadth and scope of our writing here.

               On some occasions,I would like to see the two of us engage in call and response type writing-wherein myself or Henrique create a blog post here in direct response to the others. Not only would that reflect the spirit of the soul/funk music we love,but help us grow as writers and continue that educational experience. In this age where the “less is more” adage has perhaps been too readily applied to human conversation,it is actually in our dialog that we learn most from. And the best forum to give and receive our knowledge. So enjoy what is to come! Many exciting things to read,see and hear await you!

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Filed under Africa, Blogging, Dialog, Earth, Funk, Humanity, Literacy, Music, Rhythm, Soul, Time