Tag Archives: cancer

Charles Bradley-1948 to 2017: Losing A 21st Century Soul Man

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Charles Bradley’s cancer was made aware to me by my friend Henrique Hopkins about a year ago. That was a time I now refer to with weariness as the “funkpocalypse”. So many classic musical icons, both in and out of the soul/funk spectrum, were passing away faster than many could count it seemed. Again as Henrique pointed out recently, that was an unprecedented event. Bradley’s passing today reflects how the foreknowledge of his passing has provided the necessary time to reflect on where he fit into the contemporary soul/funk/R&B world.

Six years ago, a documentary film on the man was released entitled Charles Bradley:  Soul Of America. Its one I haven’t seen. But there was a lot I already knew about him. He was raised by his grandmother in Gainesville, Florida. His mother had abandoned him as an infant. But by age eight, she took him back to live with her in Brooklyn, New York. Witnessing a James Brown show with his sister at the Apollo in 1962, Bradley became fascinated with perfecting JB’s vocal style and image at home. At 14, he ran away from home to escape the poverty of his life. For a time, he was essentially homeless.

After enlisting in the Job Corps, he ended up in Bar Harbor, Maine. He trained to be a chef there. He worked in that position for ten years. During this time, he overcame his stage fright. Mainly at the encouragement of co workers. He performed nights with a local band-who eventually got drafted into Vietnam. He then left Maine to travel out west. Eventually living in different areas of country. And performing small shows between odd jobs until 1996. At that time, he began working as a James Brown impersonator under the name of Black Velvet

This all occurred amidst trying to re-connect with his mother, almost dying after an allergic reaction to penicillin. Plus dealing with the murder of his brother. Finally in 2011, he became part of the Daptone label’s revival of late 60’s style soul & funk. And this is where my own saga with Bradley begins. I remember purchasing his first album No Time For Dreaming  at Borders Books & Music-right as they were liquidating. I purchased his third album Changes during the time of finding out about his cancer diagnosis. In musical terms. I somehow still associate Charles Bradley with new beginnings.

Having been a predominantly Latino/African American man growing up in 80’s and 90’s Maine, its very compelling to me to think of a man who looked and sang so much like funk innovator James Brown being a chef in Bar Harbor. Although a port city in Maine with a good level of diversity, I am today very aware of the states less then 1% African American population. To think of a man like Charles Bradley first realizing his calling in Maine during the 1960’s is simply amazes me. Through all the man went through, he not only survived but thrived. And emerged as an artist fully funkified. He WILL be missed.

 

 

 

 

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Blackstar: David Bowie’s Swansong Nearly A Year Later

Blackstar

David Bowie’s final album Blackstar doesn’t likely require much of a push from someone like me. It was a musically powerful final album from Bowie. And as depressing as it may seem,much of its notoriety likely derived from 2016’s unfortunate obsession with the cult of the dead. As you all know,my focus on reviewing songs and albums tends to be on music that’s happy in nature. Don’t personally listen to a lot of dark,depressing music. And  Blackstar has extremely dark lyrics and compositional approaches. What I didn’t know when it came out was that David Bowie was dying of cancer while making it.

There were elements of the album that reminded me of the somewhat brooding avante garde jazz-rock fusion of Miles Davis’s earlier electric albums-mixed with its electronic and baroque elements. As my father informed me from his reading, a lot of this had to due with California jazz sax player Donny McCaslin. Bowie was an admire of his. And invited McCaslin to work on his new album with him. Thinking he was only there for the song “Sue”,turns out Bowie desired him to be present for the entire album. As for my first impressions on the album,here’s what I wrote roughly a year ago for Amazon.com:


While it seemed a personal opinion to me at first? It seems that 2015 was a very dark and tense year. Both in terms of America and the rest of the world. It was the first time in several years that I didn’t personally collect a lot of new music. Much of what came out, even from artists I normally enjoyed,seemed tame and lacking in vitality. It’s hard to believe it’s been over three years since David Bowie made his comeback after a decades absence with [[ASIN:B00AYHKIZ6 The Next Day]]. To be honest? Wasn’t sure it wouldn’t be that long until another album arrived. Due in part to being busy in my own life lately? Haven’t kept track of much new music in months. Until this birthday surprise from this artist arrived.

The title song that opens the album clocks in at near ten minutes. Within that time it combines a Gothic opera string arrangement with sections of both industrial drum ‘n bass and stomping 60’s style funky soul. “Tis Pity She Was A Whore” is a dramatically discordant dance rocker with it’s own unique sense of melody. “Lazarus” is a crawling alternative jazz/rock number with some sad,wailing sax. “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime” has a similar flavor to the album opener-only with a more consistent rock flavor. “Dollar Days” is a plaintive acoustic guitar/piano led ballad while “I Can’t Give Everything Away” concludes it all with a densely arranged drum machine and harmonica led dance/rocker.

Overall this album has all the instrumental hallmarks of a David Bowie record. Soul,electronica,rock and opera are all combined together into an eclectic musical stew through which he and his musicians can thoroughly explore their melody and different senses of harmonies. Everything from the title and the imagery of both the packages as well as the lyrics are extremely world weary. So would have to agree with a lot of reviews this has at least that in common with the man’s mid/late 90’s output. That being said? It all ends with what seems like lessons learned,and the possibility of the future having good things to offer. A very good album from an artist who can handle the darkness of life with genuine eloquence and beauty.


It was of course only a few short days after writing this review that I learned of Bowie’s passing. At that time,I considered actually editing my Amazon review to accommodate the what was revealed as the cause of death. Elected not to do that. It was a good choice because,as the year went on,I began to learn other things about what went into the making of Blackstar. And decided it might be a better topic to deal with in terms of a fuller write up along with my original review on this blog. At the end of the day,its a great balancing of moods (musically and thematically) for a music icon about to leave us behind.

 

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Sharon Jones: 1956-2016- We Thank You For Your Funky Service!

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Sharon Fafaye Jones,born in August Georgia,has passed away at the age of 60. This after struggling with pancreatic cancer for four years. She died with family and her band The Dap Kings with her. This was such a moving event for me,this 2016’s seemingly endless parade of dying music icons,for a couple reasons. First and foremost,she was a throaty and big voiced soul singer-full of that Tina Turner type of performance fire,that was operating with a live band in the rather anti black band 21st century with the fine funk/soul band The Dap Kings.

The second reason this event has moved me is more personal. My paternal grandfather passed away of the exact same type of cancer on my 21st birthday. It was barely five months ago that I saw Sharon & The Dap Kings perform live in my hometown of Bangor,Maine. They were the second warm up act for Hall & Oates at the Bangor Waterfront Pavilion. There’s a vivid memory of Jones,dressed in gold and yellow as you see in the photo above that I took there,running ultra fast in place shouting in fine soul preacher style “I’VE GOT CANCER,CANCER DOESN’T HAVE ME!!!”.

Sharon Jones lived the life of a soul survivor if there is indeed such a thing. She moved from her hometown due to spousal abuse from her father to her mom,wound up in Brooklyn and went from the church to the clubs singing with a number of funk bands in 70’s. For years she struggled to gain notoriety,with one producer referring to her as “too short and too black” during the 90’s. She then became a guard at Riker’s Island prison for a time,where she adopted her tough stage persona. After getting her first official gig as a leader,she soon recorded her first album with the Dap Kings before the decade was out.

My friend and blogging consultant Henrique were just talking as this was being written on Facebook about what made Sharon Jones so important. Both of us agreed that her musical importance comes out of a stronger appreciation for strong,well produced live funk/soul in the 2010’s. And that after her years of struggling in the prime of her life,that period allowed her to break through in a huge way during middle age. And that’s a legacy that is too important to ignore in a time when,on the pop music front,vocalists are still far more publicized than musicians and bands.

Jones was a vocalist of course. But she never let her eyes off the fact that her big voice was part of a band with guitars,basses,drums and a horn section. And that represents the funkiest attitude of the vocalist. Even today,there are probably plenty of young brothers and sisters being told by reality TV minded producers they are “too black”,”too short” or even “too ugly” to be popular. But since Sharon Jones has been such a huge presence in the last couple of decades,her strongest legacy might be that the newer generation won’t have to endure the hardships she did.

Sharon Jones,I thank you for your service to music. And you will be missed by all of us funky people!

If you are able,please give what little you can to the Conquer Cancer Foundation in honor of Miss Sharon Jones!

https://secure2.convio.net/asco/site/Donation2?df_id=3292&3292.donation=form1

 

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Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Golden Years” by David Bowie

Just before bed last night, I learned that David Bowie had passed away earlier in the day at age 69. It would seem he was dealing with terminal cancer for the last 18 months. He recorded a final album entitled Blackstar, a darkly jazzy exploration he recorded while ill and released on what turned out to be his final birthday. During  his near half century as a recording artist? He was extremely prolific and musically challenging. So while I just dealt with Bowie last week? Wanted to extend on the tribute since he’s completed a cycle from birthday to grave.

With Bowie’s mid/late 70’s change in persona from Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane to the Thin White Duke, musical transitions were happening with him even thicker and faster. For the most part? Bowie’s 1976 album  Station To Station reflected his burgeoning interest in an ambient type of electronic Kraut rock. But still there was a lot of the Philly influence still left in his sound at that point. With Carlos Alomar really at the peak of his powers with Bowie? A new hit and tremendous creative triumph emerged from this groove entitled “Golden Years”.

A brushing percussion and hand clap powered rhythm provides the intro to the jam-accompanied by Alomar’s thick and phat rhythm guitar chug and a bluesy harmonica. This segues right into the percussive,marching main rhythm of the song itself. Alomar’s guitar on the rest of the song is a densely mixed polyphony of bass and higher pitched phased tones. The refrains of the song are more brightly melodic-with a ringing bell like percussion bringing in the joy even more. The song basically outro’s on the main chorus that maintains itself throughout.

What “Golden Years” does is showcase how Bowie was able to do within the black music spectrum what the Rolling Stones did: evolve with the changes of the music. So this finds Bowie’s funk transitioning into the disco era with a lean toward the four on the floor beat. It all makes sense with change being the key fixture in Bowie’s musical career as well. It’s also a great lyric with him encouraging a young,attractive lady to believe in herself because “nothin’s gonna touch you in your golden years”. For this and many dozens of musical reasons? David Bowie will be missed.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, cancer, Carlos Alomar, classic funk, David Bowie, Funk, percussion, Philly Soul, Rolling Stones, Uncategorized