Somehow I clearly remember first hearing jazz/fusion icon Lenny White as solo artist first. And never even having heard him as the drummer for Chick Corea’s Return To Forever from 1973 through 76. My first impression,through DJ/musician Nigel Hall’s radio show at the University Of Maine,was via White’s debut solo album Venusian Summer from 1975. Had to warm to that album. At the time? The Wounded Bird label was reissuing White’s 70’s solo catalog on CD. So it was exciting to know I’d be hearing more of his music.
Now eventually ended up with all of those reissues. But the one that caught my years most was a 1978 album called The Adventures Of Astral Pirates. It blended some of the sci fi elements of RTF’s music,not to mention the spirituality of EWF and the narrative style of P-Funk with it’s comic strip style liner notes. However there was one song on this wonderfully space funk/fusion recording that really caught my ear in a big way. It was sung by the late Don Blackman,soon to be part of White’s group Twennynine. And it was called “Universal Love”.
It all gets started with Blackman’s piano and and Jeff Sigman’s Brazilian style rhythm guitar,which quickly morphs into a thick and fat funky bass/guitar interaction to sequel into Blackman’s first vocal refrain. The first chorus begins with a falsetto vocal that goes into a sleek,electric piano led late 70’s jazz/pop melody before going into an instrumentally chunkier version of the refrain before going into an extended version of the chorus and the intro itself. And it all concludes with very final crescendo’s for each of the songs musical themes.
This song stands as a fine example of the dreamiest end of the space funk sound. The atmospheric jazz/fusion element that comes from bassist Alex Blake and Don Blackman’s touches put this right tune with what I call “people music”. Even with the talented Lenny White’s fast paced,spasmodic progressive style of drumming? It’s impressive to hear how much he seems to have learned from Clyde Stubblefield about what not to play as a funky drummer. The space White puts into this song really allows the powerful groove and melody to be at it’s most expansive.
Filed under 1970's, Alex Blake, bass guitar, Don Blackman, drums, Funk Bass, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lenny White, Uncategorized, Wounded Bird Records
Today I decided that instead of offering up another volume of my Amazon Archive column, it would behoove me to take this time to introduce a somewhat less regular segment that may have the effect of enhancing the overall content of this blog. Also it is nearly National Record Store Day,so it seemed appropriate to celebrate that somehow. As with many people in today’s world, I do some shopping online. Especially rare music-usually on Amazon.com, Ebay or reissue labels such as Wounded Bird or Funkytowngrooves. However with the return of the brick and mortar record stores within the last decade or so? My interest in perusing record shops,which has always been part of the musical experience for me,has been revived to an enormous degree. In this column, both myself and Henrique have the opportunity to discuss meaningful trips to record stores. In particular the locally owned ones I just spoke about. On a personal level? I will be avoiding any of the cynical, lovelorn’d cliches of the stereotypical dysfunctional record collector/music admirer. Of course that having a lot to do with that stereotype having nothing to do with myself. So without further ado, here is such a story that happened less than a day ago from this writing.
Recently I had been browsing through my vinyl collection-much of which is in plastic crates in the basement of my family with whom I live, to see if there were any records that could eliminated from the collection as I had replaced them with CD versions. Please note that I collect vinyl based primarily on availability,not on credibility or any musical format elitism. I managed to collect about twenty records that matched this criteria in my hand. Carrying them up from the basement into the back of one of our family cars was literally a heavy load. With my parents work schedules being so intense and my emphasis on photography during this much anticipated springtime? It was finally bought to my attention by family that these vinyl records were taking up valuable space in the back trunk of the car. And that something should be done with them. For a short time I considered selling the lot on Ebay. But their selling policies have become so convoluted, to the point where you actually have to pay unless your item(s) sell, that it was having them assessed at the local vinyl buying record store would be the way to go. And luckily I’d be right on time to have access to such a thing.
Above is a sampling of some of the album covers to the records that I was looking to give away or sell off. I elected to go to the the record store who sign you see pictured above you-as it’s currently the nearest available and the one of which I am most familiar in the long term. In its previous location in the collage town of Orono,where it’d been for over a quarter of a century, Dr.Records has turned out to be the picture of endurance. Once a thriving haunt for record buyers and collectors during the 1980’s and into the early 90’s, it continued to operate well into the new millennium in this location selling used vinyl,45’s,cassette tapes and CD’s. But at the time it was located in the basement of another building and wasn’t greatly accessible to many people. On February 7th of this year, the stores owner Don Menninghaus moved the store to a new location on Hammond Street in Bangor. Its a far more centralized area-near the highway enough for both people from nearby towns and even tourists will have access to it. This new location is a much brighter and exciting looking place-with a distinctly 60’s/70’s era independent record store flavor about it with eye catching record sleeves and posters displayed on the walls.
At first,I was very concerned that Mister Menninghaus would have little to no interest in the lot of 70’s and 80’s era soul/funk/jazz/R&B vinyl I was trying to unload. There is a feeling this genre spectrum is not a huge seller in this area. Even on vinyl. Luckily when I entered the store yesterday afternoon, I was instantly greeted by the sounds of the song “Cane” from the 1978 Gill Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson album Secrets,which Don Menninghaus was playing on his turntable. So that helped me to feel more at ease. Because of my discomfort with the situation? It was my own mother who actually used her stronger business acumen to ask Don if was interested in any of the records. For his part? He set aside a small stack of several records from my lot,including the ones you see above you and offered $10 dollars for them. By that time I had been browsing the bins and found a new stack of vinyl to buy from him. In the $1.99 bins (always my favorite spot to find funk and soul vinyl generally),I noticed two collage age men looking through the bin and snickering at the very idea of albums by Little River Band and Pablo Cruise being in that bin alongside some early 80’s post punk records. Realizing Don Menninghaus is ever the reserved baby boomer? The generational difference between the quit,thoughtful store owner playing Gill Scott-Heron on his turntable and the display of the 90’s “credibility war” mentality from the two customers told its own meaningful story.
Upon checking out with Don,he immediately took interest in one of the vinyl records I was buying and this led into a discussion of our mutual admiration for the documentary film 20 Feet From Stardom, in particular the presence of the strong musical personality Merry Clayton. Don also inquired as to how my own personal music demos were going, something even I’d forgotten had been discussed with him. On that note he also mentioned that a recent record seller from Oregon had unloaded a number of vinyl albums that he thought I would be very interested in. These were all late 70’s funk albums that were in very good condition and by and large included the original sleeves as well. Although I did spend probably more money that I ever had on vinyl yesterday? It was more than worth it-considering the relative unavailability of a lot of these records and the amount of time I’d been searching for them. In the end, this trip to the record store was not only successful for my own purposes. But also led to some very positive conversations with the store owner and the opportunity to tap my feet to Gill Scott-Heron’s “Third World Revolution” while looking at the vinyl at the store. Not to mention Don’s understanding,after knowing me most of my life, in my established musical interests. It was a wonderful revelation that, even in an area such as this where rugged individualism is often more celebrated than anything else? That something like music can create bridges of understanding between people.