Category Archives: racism

The Cover Story: Sometimes,It Really Was About Races

cover-story

All eight of the late 1950’s to mid 60’s album covers have two things in common. All of them feature white people’s faces on the cover. And all of them are by black artists.  This topic first came to my attention when my father purchased a coffee table book called 1000 Record Covers by former DJ/record company exec Michael Ochs. One section of the book specifically featured a series of album covers by black artists with the faces of white people on them. It even pointed out how,in general in the case of Motown,other albums by black artists featured cartoons on the covers.

Mister Ochs book brought up the reason for this-one I’ve generally accepted as the most prominent truth. During the late 50’s and halfway into the 60’s,the civil rights movement in American was making it clear for the 20th century that black lives did matter. Yet the American South in particular were concerned that albums by black artists would sell better to the area’s more heavily racist population if the artists faces weren’t pictured. This was done in many different ways. The reason why putting white faces on covers stood out so much for me is because it went along with a similar matter of the day: cover songs.

In the 1999 PBS documentary Record Row: The Cradle Of Rhythm & Blues,the topic of white artists covering songs from black artists was brought up. In that docu,the late Jerry Butler and Dick Clark gave counterpoints on the matter. Clark pointed out that most radio stations in the early civil rights era wouldn’t play original versions of songs by black artists. So,for example it was more common to hear Pat Boone’s infamous cover of “Tutti Fruiti” than Little Richard’s original.  Clark contended that this was a big deal over nothing as the original artists eventually got their due.

Jerry Butler’s comment on that issue was that it was easier to feel a personal injury was less severe is one wasn’t experiencing it themselves. He cited the higher levels of sales by white cover versions of R&B/soul songs by black artists. And the economic/racial schisms behind it. So taking all this together,the elimination of a black presence on 50’s and some 60’s R&B/soul/jazz/doo-wop songs and album covers comes across as yet another method by which white Americans subsidize black Americans,their accomplishments and creative innovations.

Is any of this shocking today? In doing research for this article,it would seem this matter is rarely discussed online. Even as part of America’s musical history. There are some personal observations I have about the matter though. Seeing a white infant on the cover of a James Brown album was particularly eyebrow raising. Especially in light of JB asserting he was black and proud eight years after said album was released. As far as the Isley Brothers’ This Old Heart Of Mine? That album came out in 1966,the same year as the founding of Oakland California’s Black Panther Party.

Miles Davis is especially interesting in this case. His autobiography with Quincy Troupe made it clear many times that he resented,as he stated “white people always trying to take credit for what black people did”. I know some who cite Miles as being a reverse racist for saying such things,in fact. He was known to have vocally objected to having a blonde white woman on the original cover for his 1957 release Miles Ahead. This lead him to fight Columbia records for his wife Francis to appear on the cover of his 1960’s album Someday My Prince Will Come. In the end,Miles’ point was entirely reality based.

One topic Henrique Hopkins and I often discuss is the rap segment of Michael Jackson’s song “Black Or White”-where the rapped bridge states “its not about races,its’ about faces/places”-even saying “I’d rather hear both sides of the tale”. As of this writing and the presence of president elect Donald Trump and a strong resistance to the idea that racism is still a problem has me thinking a lot. Sure there are many people who feel blackness in America can stand up for itself on its own terms. At the same time,people should understand history so it doesn’t repeat itself (in some form) in the future.

 

 

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Filed under 1950's, 1960's, 1966, Blogging, Dick Clark, Jerry Butler, Michael Ochs, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, racism

Andresmusictalk Takes A Stand

Stop Killing Black People

Today I’d planned to bring you perhaps another Anatomy of THE Groove segment,or another list based article about jazz,funk and soul music. Every human being has a heart somewhere though. I’m no exception to that,and my heart is broken. Within the last three days,two innocent black American men in Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered by the police. Yesterday,a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas,Texas erupted into violence against the police.  The situation has gotten to such a critical state, it seems like right time to set the record straight as to what Andresmusictalk stands for.

Over the past couple of years,grooves with a message have been over-viewed here. Especially in times of crisis such as outbreaks of violence. And in my home state of Maine the election of Mister Paul LePage to the position of state governor. As much as it might be inappropriate to bring personal views and feelings to this blog,the national situation has gone beyond too far. Day after day,social networks such as Facebook are filled with racist rhetoric-from posted memes to comments. And in many states,including my own,open carry gun laws have turned private citizens into potential vigilantes.

I am personally many things. Black,Latino and openly gay are among them. Yet everyday American’s who are any or all of these things are being made to feel as if they’ve done something terribly wrong. For example,when people such as Treyvon Martin,Michael Brown,Freddie Gray,Tamir Rise and now Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are murdered by police,it is quickly dismissed as a misunderstanding-with the murdered party painted as a “potential criminal element”.  When police are murdered such as in Dallas,most of the nation stand behind them without question.

These contradictory actions have officially proven to me that America today has become nearly totally based on the racial privilege of white people in particular. Through the articles done here,I’ve tried to imply that empathy,not xenophobia,is the solution to a lot of these peoples. So many other people do that in their own way,too. Sadly,few seem to even be listening. So wanted to clarify these matters: this blog is against prejudice  and racism. It’s against the murder of the innocent based on skin color and other non criminal matters. And most importantly it’s against homophobia,ableism and white privilege.

What it does stand for wholeheartedly is music. Music to get people in the mind of doing the dance we call life. And often music with a direct message. Here are some songs to listen to that musically describe today’s situation very well. No over-view from me today. Just listen and dance to the funky and soulful people music.

Don’t Call Me Nigger,Whitey/Sly & The Family Stone

Ball Of Confusion/The Tempations

If There’s A Hell Below,We’re All Going To Go/Curtis Mayfield

Am I Black Enough For You/Billy Paul

Winter In America/Gil Scott-Heron

Black Man/Stevie Wonder

System Of Survival/Earth Wind & Fire

Ghetto Woman/Janelle Monae

Baltimore/Prince

*”Peace is more than the absence of war”-Prince (1958-2016) paraphrasing a quotation from Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

 

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Filed under 2016, Alton Sterling, Dallas, Freddie Gray, gun violence, message songs, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, police brutality, political songs, racism, racist murder, Tamir Rice, Treyvon Martin, Uncategorized, white privilege

Anataomy of THE Groove: “I Wanna Talk To You” by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder’s musical artistry is completely effected by the 60’s social explosions. These changes in American society defined the baby boomer generation,of which Wonder was a member of. The 70’s emerged finding the civil rights and black power movements influencing that entire 60’s era counterculture. One issue,bought up again by Prince three decades later,was the idea of recording contracts as a form of artistic slavery. Wonder’s music had grown behind what Motown expected him to create. And just prior to his 21st birthday,Wonder decided to do as Curtis Mayfield had done and take control of his music.

This April 12th was the 45th anniversary of Stevie Wonder’s album  Where I’m Coming From. This album represented a time when Wonder insisted his contract to Motown be voided until they worked out a deal that gave him full creative autonomy. The album featured a sound that represented the funk process,and Wonder’s use of it to advance his own musical independence. The themes of the songs dealt with anti war ideas ,drug abuse, racism and his new marriage to Syreeta Wright,who collaborated with him on the album. Today,one song on this album rings through my head very loudly: “I Wanna Talk To You”.

Wonder starts out the song with a down and dirty 12 bar blues piano solo straight out of the Ray Charles school of soul. He responds to this vocally on his refrain-just him and the piano. Than Stevie imitating an older voice comes in for the chorus,solo at first. During the rest of the chorus,layers of fuzzed out Clavinet and huge,percussive soul/jazz style drums come into play. After a few rounds of this literal refrain/choral conversation the music comes to an instrumental bridge. This extends into an elongated chorus of these reverbed,heavy groove keyboards until the song breaks apart lyrically and fades out.

Musically, Stevie Wonder is speaking the same musical language here as Sly & The Family Stone were with their Stand album from a couple years earlier. It brings in the raw R&B attitude out of the 50’s blues clubs and juke joints into the slick,churchy use of reverb and instrumental filters. This is what the funk process was all about. And by having fully realized the strong instrumental influence of the Ray Charles comparison that made his childhood career,Wonder was able to bring the then recent musical past into a new and evolving future. And right around the time Marvin Gaye put out What’s Going On at that.

On the lyrical end, I was inspired to write about this song was by seeing a meme that showed members of Black Lives Matter and saying “the most racist people are the ones crying ‘racist’ all the time’. This meme was posted to the Facebook timeline of a friend of mine whose not only gay,but works in a mental health facility. It got me to thinking that perhaps,racism is indeed a form of mental illness. It encourages irrational,murderous behavior. For years “I Wanna Talk To You” was presented in literature as being a song about the generation gap. In a way it is. But it actually goes far deep than that in content.

As it stands,the reason this occurrence inspired me to think of this songs lyrics is how Wonder plays it out. It’s essentially a one man show-style musical theater production,if one were based in straight up post WW2 black American attitude and funkiness. Wonder plays himself singing about the frustration of being black in America. He also plays the voice of an old Southern (most likely white) bigot who insists “my world can be true if you do what I tell you to”. At the end,it all breaks down when they character calls out “ah Stevie boy” and Wonder responds with “hey I don’t need you for nothin'”.

Stevie Wonder throws down an amazing ethic on this song. What amazes me is that Where I’m Coming From is the only one of his adult albums not domestically in print on physical media. In terms of this song in particular,it finds Wonder coming into rising adulthood at the dawn of the post civil rights era in America. Between the black American revolutionary music of funk and the message of organizations like the black panthers, Wonder completely realizes the connections between the two factors. And he plays out American’s racist default setting beautifully on this song with maximum soul and funkativity.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Black Lives Matter, blues funk, clavinet, drums, funk process, message songs, Motown, piano, racism, reverb, Stevie Wonder