I don’t know why this song, of all of Womack’s, is my favorite by him. But it is.
Curtis Mayfield would have turned 72 today. The immensity of his genius is something I am continually rediscovering. Here’s just three cuts to remember him by…out of seemingly a countless bounty.
I will forever be a student of music, learning from the greats. RIP, Frankie Knuckles.
Darondo (né William Pulliam) passed away today at the age of 67. His single, “Didn’t I” remains one of my favorite Bay Area records (and really, just an all-time great slow jam).
I interviewed Darondo back in 2006 for Wax Poetics and they just reprinted the article on their site. Here’s an excerpt:
The name “Darondo” is so unique, it’s hard to forget. But for many years, all people knew of him was only that: a name on a faded label. In his brief recording career, the Bay Area native only released three 7-inch singles, all in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In the music world, only a select circle of sweet-soul aficionados and Bay Area music collectors had any awareness of his existence, though he held his own notoriety in local cable television and, shall we say, “other” pursuits.
The thing about Darondo’s music though—especially the sublime “Didn’t I,” his best-known single—is that once you hear it, you crave more. That curiosity is largely how the Bay Area native has resurfaced after thirty years. Ubiquity recently released Let My People Go—less an anthology and more of a long-delayed debut album that combines his six songs on single plus an additional three songs taken from a previously unreleased reel of recordings from the same era. At last, Darondo is finally emerging out of obscurity, bringing his small but intriguing legacy with him.
Read the rest here.
I forgot I had these…Justin Torres, who was a huge force behind Darondo’s rediscovery, recorded a few tracks with Darondo live and shared them with me. I shared these, in turn, on the site back in 2006 and I’m bringing ’em back:
And here’s some clips from Darondo’s old local cable show:
(Title photo by Oliver Wang, 2008)
Lamont Dozier: Going Back To My Roots
From Peddlin’ Music On The Side (WB, 1977)
Richie Havens: Going Back To My Roots
From Connections (Elektra, 1980)
One of my best moments in a club came back in the ’00s when I was at APT during a night that Chairman Mao was spinning. I had never heard Lamont Dozier’s “Going Back To My Roots” before and I was just marveling at now just how good the song was, but that incredible change in the arrangement that drops around the 6:30 mark. It was so unexpected and sublime, one of those songs that really only could work as well as it does when you give it time to unfold on a dancefloor. Simply incredible.
Not surprisingly, it drew the attention of other artists. The best known cover is by Odyssey but…I don’t know…I think I found the vocals to be too disco-cliché. Richie Havens’ version however won me over with that intro piano (I’m a sucker for good piano intros) and though Havens has a rougher voice than Dozier’s it works well here. The “reprise” section is missing but otherwise, I find this almost as pleasing to play out.
Ok, I admit it – I blew it by forgetting to write about this when the reissue first dropped, earlier in the year. Kind of ironic given that when Bond’s album first appeared, it too fell under many people’s radars despite it being really incredible. Bond was signed to We Produce, the Stax subsidiary that also released albums by the Tempress and Ernie Hines, but as the liner notes (and an earlier Wax Poetics article) detailed, Bond’s career never caught fire – not gritty enough for the local Memphis crowd, not promoted enough to make a dent nationally.
The first time I heard Lou Bond, it was like discovering that Bill Withers and Eugene McDaniel had some cousin that connected the two of them. Like Withers, there’s a particular blue collar vibe to Bond – he’s not a classic, gospel-trained soul man by any means though there is still something instantly appealing in the earnest tone that reminds me a bit of Boz Scaggs but more mellow. However, like McDaniels, Bond’s lyrics were infused with an unabashed political passion. “To The Establishment,” in particular, shares much in common with the polemics of McDaniels’ Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse or Gil-Scott Heron and Brian Jackson’s 1970s collaborations.
For sheer beauty though, it’s hard to top “Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards.” The Memphis-based rhythm section (helped out by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra), sound amazing here and the first time I heard it, I instantly thought of all kinds of favorable comparisons to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album or Mike James Kirkland’s “Hang On In There.” A remarkable song by any standard.
Anyways, don’t be like me and oversleep on this. Light in the Attic gets props for putting this reissue out and we should all be so thankful to revisit an artist whose work has always deserved the recognition.
“Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards” stays one of the greatest soul songs from the ’70s I know.
This isn’t some grand insight but what I find remarkable about the career of the late Donald Byrd was his ability to span so many different phases of jazz. For a cat who started in the bebop era, he bridged from there into post-bop, dabbled a bit in free, became one of the giants of the soul jazz era, and then became a massive force during the heyday of fusion. The vast majority of artists – of any genre – have trouble transitioning between even micro-changes in musical styles.1 Donald Byrd stayed relevant for at least 20 years. That’s as impressive a feat as I’ve seen by any artist above or below the platinum line.
The following playlist is absolutely not meant to be comprehensive. There’s dozens of songs I could have included but opted not to, either because they seemed so obvious to replay them would be redundant or, more to the point: they weren’t my favorites. But even this modest sampling gives you the idea of the astonishing range of Byrd’s musical genius.
Continue reading THE MANY FLIGHTS OF DONALD BYRD
- Case in point: the year in hip-hop in 1992. ↩
I decided, in late 2012, I really didn’t want to write RIP pieces anymore. I meant, absolutely, no disrespect to the likes of Marva Whitney or Inez Andrews or Fontella Bass or Ravi Shankar, et. al. But it is depressing when your site begins to resemble a roll call of the dead and as I’ve said in the past, for people like me, in love with music of the 1960s and ’70s, we are definitely entering into a time when a lot of our heroes and heroines will be passing away.
This all said, I can’t not acknowledge the passing of Donald Byrd, who (according to his nephew), died on Monday at age 80. There will certainly be tributes from the jazz community given Byrd’s stature and longevity but for hip-hop dudes like me, our relationship to Byrd is different, couched more in his ’70s Blue Note recordings, especially when he hooked up with the Mizell Brothers on the production trip. Not to play compare/contrast but the only other artists who were comparable to him in the world of soul-jazz would probably have been Lou Donaldson, maybe Grant Green.
Here’s just a few of my favorites from Byrd:
All soul-jazz era songs acknowledged…I don’t think if there’s a Donald Byrd song more sublime than his version of “Cristo Redentor.” 1
- Louis CK used this in one of the best episodes of Season 3 of his show, on the rooftop where he and Parker Posie are sitting, looking over the skyline. It’s incredible. ↩
It seems wrong to say I had a “great time” at a memorial but I will say: if the goal of this Sunday’s public memorial for Matthew Africa was to partake in the kind of joyous socializing and good cheer that accompanied his gigs and parties, then it did everything you could want and more. At the end, a second line band lead people through the streets of Oakland, giving Matthew a proper musician’s send-off.
Matthew Africa is gone. I’m having trouble accepting this.
I probably first met him around ’91 or ’92, when I started volunteering at KALX FM in Berkeley. I admit: Matthew intimidated the hell out of me at first. He wasn’t unfriendly but he carried himself with a certain, serious countenance. He didn’t seem like the type to suffer fools lightly and I guess I thought myself a fool, or close enough to one. What trips me out to realize is that, for the longest time, I just thought of Matthew as being older and wiser but he was only the latter. We were the same age, but he possessed such knowledge and self-assuredness even in his late teens. I just realized this a minute ago and it blows my mind. We may have shared an age but he was always on another level.
But gradually, over time, I (mostly) got over that feeling, especially during the time that Matthew was working at Amoeba Records (Berkeley). There used to be a minor feeding frenzy when he’d put out new stock on hip-hop promos and other goodies; we’d all swarm as he filled the bins and I remember him looking out for me on occasion and placing a 12″ in my hand on some “you need this” tip.
In those early years, I’d always see Matthew hanging out with Beni B, who – as much as anyone – was the inspiration behind why I became a DJ. Beni was the first bonafide “crate digger” I met; he had one of those classic record-hoarder apartments where there’d be literally stacks of vinyl in every room of the house. Beni had/has a huge personality so it was easy to assume he was the big record dog and Matthew the sidekick but as I learned later, it was actually the other way around. Matthew was helping put Beni – and Joe Quixx and many others – up on the game at a time before the internet disseminated that kind of knowledge more freely.
That’s the thing about Matthew…I often told people that he probably had one of the best “shadow” collections in the Bay because he wasn’t ever the type to floss that. I often imagined there wasn’t any sick ass breakbeat record that Matthew didn’t already have and as I learned years later, my introduction to “breaks” probably came, indirectly, through him because I used to listen to KMEL’s Wake-Up Show, when Quixx would play the “classics” and much of those he learned from Matthew. Same goes for Beni’s show and all the breaks he used to play.
This site wouldn’t exist if not for inspirations like that. Real talk.
“he was a master of dropping knowledge at a matter of fact angle without ever coming off like he was flexing or being pedantic. he’d clarify in the name of clarification and keep it moving. of course it also helped that he always knew what the fuck he was talking about. purely constructive og moves.”
I certainly was a beneficiary of those “constructive OG moves” on many occasions through the years. And I really need to emphasize this: Matthew wasn’t “the dude” because he had cool records. It was his generosity and basic kindness to people around him. He could have been a master of anything – making coffee, car repair, raising kittens – whatever mattered wasn’t what he knew but how he shared it. He was a mentor, a guide, a gentle hand on the shoulder that helped point you in the direction you wanted to go (even if you didn’t realize it at the time).
By the early ’00s, we both had logged in years as DJs at KALX and I had finally developed a comfort level with him. We ended up DJing two different (albeit short-lived) monthly parties together, Eastbound in East Oakland, and Popcorn in S.F. (along with Cool Chris).1 To be honest, I was less bummed about losing those nights b/c of the money or whatever: I was bummed that I wouldn’t get to hang out with Matthew at least once a month. He was just such a good dude: avuncular, insightful, funny, and genuine.
It’s so hard to express how enormous a loss this is. He was really just one of the best people I ever got to meet through the DJ/record game. I will miss him eternally.
I need to restrain myself from hitting you all with a gazillion links so let me be selective.
2) Matthew was my very first guest on The Sidebar. I was listening to just the first few minutes again earlier tonight and was filled with simultaneous grief over his passing but also happiness to hear his voice.
3) Matthew wrote a Summer Songs post for us in 2010.
4) And as long as his site stays up, you can find some of his excellent mixes and podcasts here.
One last anecdote, at least this go-around…
Matthew and I co-hosted KALX fundraisers at least once or twice. If you’ve ever had to suffer through a public radio fundraising drive, you know how tedious it is and believe me, it’s not that much better on our side of the mic either. Most of us got into radio to play music, not to explain how listener supported radio is superior to commercial radio (it’s true, of course, but still) and whatever other boilerplate we had to whip out once a year.
But Matthew didn’t half-step. If he was going to do a fundraiser show, he was going to put his best foot forward. One time, when I was his co-host, he brought in some Grade A records to play…I was too lil dude to fully appreciate how much heat he had with him but I remember he had an original Third Guitar (“Baby Don’t You Cry“) and what blew my wig back even more: an original copy of Sugar Billy Garner’s “I Got Some“. I mean, he must have been toting several thousands of dollars worth of music, just for a fundraiser show, but he wanted to make the point that community/college radio like KALX could give listeners access to music they simply were not going to hear anywhere else. That’s just how he carried himself.
That was Matthew.
- My favorite Popcorn story is related here. Just as an addendum, I forgot to include this anecdote, connected to that night: I remember watching the dance floor evaporate, and I turn to Matthew and he gives me this look that basically said, “dude, what were you thinking?” but in a kind way, much like a parent might try to create a “teachable moment” for their child in a moment of fuck-uppery. I have this memory of talking to Matthew about that night years later and we both remembered how badly I played the moment and had a good laugh over it. ↩
- Barnes mentions how Mathew put him up on “Fire Eater” and I had the same experience. Matthew once told me, “play this on your radio show and the phone will light up with people calling in to ask about it. And he was absolutely fucking correct. ↩