Sunday, September 20, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Sad news today confirming that legendary turntablist Roc Raida of the X-Ecutioners passed away this weekend. According to a statement from his family, he was was recently involved in a mixed martial arts accident.

The statement reads:

“Anthony Williams p/k to the world as The Legendary Grandmaster Roc Raida has passed away unexpectedly today September 19 2009. He is survived by his wife, three lovely daughters, mother and friends. Raida was recently in an mixed martial arts accident, something that he has been practicing for several years. Although he had under gone two surgeries with great success, was released to an inpatient physical therapy facility and was in great spirits the past few days. This morning he started to have complications and passed. The family asks for privacy at this time.”

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Freddie Scott: RIP
posted by O.W.

Freddie Scott: You Got What I Need
From 7" (Shout, 1968). Also available on UBB 24.


Alas, Freddie Scott has died. The singer behind, "Hey Girl" and "Cry To Me" but the height of his career was in the 1960s and most casual soul fans don't know much about his catalog. However, he achieved a certain kind of immortality within the hip-hop generation when Biz Markie interpolated his 1968 single, "(You) Got What I Need" for "Just a Friend." I can play this song anywhere and people go nuts - it's just that good.

In Dangerous Rhythm has a far more thorough dedication of different Scott songs.

(Thanks to for the sound file)

*DLs no longer avail but streaming audio is.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

posted by O.W.

Ruth Brown: So Long
From Rock and Roll (Atlantic, 1957). Also on Miss Rhythm.

Ruth Brown passed away today in Las Vegas at the age of 78. To be candid, I never followed her musical career in any meaningful way - her sound helped set the stage for later soul divas, especially for other Atlantic stand-outs like Aretha Franklin, but even if I never spent much time with her discography, I could appreciate the equally important contribution she made as an advocate for her fellow artists. Atlantic might have been the "House that Ruth Built" but Ruth herself created other institutions to assist other singers and musicians whose needs were rarely looked after by their record labels, especially once their hit-making days had ended.

For people who bought copies of my Soul Sides Vol. 1 compilation, a portion of your money went to the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, dedicated to the "historical and cultural preservation" of R&B. Ruth Brown founded this organization (with help from Atlantic) as a way to make sure that the legacy of the music - and its creators - wouldn't be trampled under either label greed or industry neglect. I'm proud my modest CD could help support such a cause.

To learn more about Brown, check out her award-winning autobiography, Miss Rhythm.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

posted by O.W.

The Penguins: Earth Angel
From 7" (Dootone, 1954). Also on Best of the Penguins

Lighter Shade of Brown: On a Sunday Afternoon
From Brown and Proud (Quality, 1990)

Dick "Huggy Bear" Hugg passes away at 78.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

posted by O.W.

Rufus Harley: Malika
From Re-Creation of the Gods (Anhk, 1972)

The funkiest jazz bagpiper passes at age 70. Godspeed Rufus.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

posted by O.W.

Ray Barretto: El Watusi
From Charanga Moderna (Tico, 1962)

Boogaloo Con Soul
From Latino Con Soul (United Artists, 1967)

Acid + A Deeper Shade of Soul
From Acid (Fania, 1967)

From Together (Fania, 1969)

From Our Latin Thing (Fania, 1972)

Slo Flo
From Barretto Live: Tomorrow (Atlantic, 1976)

(Editor's Note: Jeff Chang and I collaborated on the following post. I write the following:)


Ray Barretto passed away on Friday from heart failure, at age 76.

With his signature, thick-rimmed glasses, Barretto never looked like what'd you expect from a king of Latin percussion: he seemed more like, well, your accountant maybe. Yet even if he never became as famous as his fellow conguero Mongo Santamaria, for many Latin music aficionados, he was just as revered, if not more, especially given a late career resurgence in the last five years. Barretto was also part of a larger wave of great percussionists to come out of New York, alongside Tito Puente, Willie Bobo and Sabu Martinez and of that bunch, none was as influential as Barretto in helping to push the Latin soul sound in the 1960s and '70s.

Barretto's early influences came out of the Latin jazz experimentations of the 1950s, specifically Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" which became one of Barretto's early hits during his years as a studio sessionist and sideman, recording for Blue Note, Riverside and Prestige. His emergence as a bandleader came with Riverside but it was his move over to George Goldner's Tico Records (the king of Latin labels until Fania came along) that yielded Barretto's first huge hit: "El Watusi".

"El Watusi" was a charanga, one of the precursors to the boogaloo - you can hear on "Watusi" how boogaloo would build on the same basic elements as the charanga: piano-lead rhythm section, hand claps, and an irresistible dance groove (albeit at a much slower tempo).

Barretto rode the success of "El Watusi" for years: his next album for Tico was called El Watusi Man, two years later he released, Viva Watusi!. By 1967 however, Barretto had moved onto trying to capitalize on the boogaloo craze, recording his Latino Con Soul (a simple but rather genius title) for United Artists. "Boogaloo Con Soul" comes from that LP (the title is a bit redundant since, technically speaking, the "con soul" part is implicit in boogaloo songs). It's a cool tune, one of the slower boogaloos out there, especially in comparison to Joe Cuba or Pete Rodriguez's hits of the same era. It's also longer than most, clocking in just over five minutes and in that respect, many of Barretto's boogaloos nodded to his background in jazz and the longer compositions of the genre.

After Latino Con Soul, Barretto moved over to Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pacecho's Fania imprint - then still a fledging label - and then released Acid which is, hands-down, the greatest Latin soul album ever recorded. I say this not simply because it had some of the best songs in the genre, but it was also a surprisingly consistent album. Many Latin LPs in the mid/late '60s (and really, Acid is more of a post-boogaloo LP, especially in how it pushed the genre forward) tended to try to touch one at least three or four different dance rhythms: so you'd have a boogaloo or two here, a mambo there, a shing-a-ling there, etc. Acid, in comparison, was one of the rare albums of the era that embraced Latin soul (and jazz) wholeheartedly, not afraid to play the crossover card with songs that were clearly a meeting point between the Brown and Black musical cultures of New York. Barretto wasn't alone in this regard - Joe Bataan would be another obvious example - but Acid ranks as the album that did it best.

The title track is a monster, blending both soul, Latin and jazz. I remember the first time I heard this: Chairman Mao was playing it at the Saturday night weekly he and Citizen Kane used to share at APT in Manhattan. I usually don't try to sweat the DJ but when this came on, I had to ask Mao what the hell it was. Believe me, over a club system, the song is amazing.

The track wasn't alone: other notable songs were the epic "Espiritu Libre," the raucous "Soul Drummers," fairly straight forward boogaloos like "Mercy, Mercy, Baby" and "Teacher of Love" and a personal favorite: "A Deeper Shade of Soul" (which became the source for a song by the same name in the late '80s by a European group called the Urban Dance Sqaud).

Following Acid, Barretto put together several more Latin soul themed albums including Hard Hands, the compilation Head Sounds (which was basically a few key cuts from Acid plus a handful of new songs including "Drum Poem" and a version of "Tin Tin Deo", and Together. The title song, "Together" is a stunner, not only for its fiery rhythm (which seriously kick ass) but listen to the song content: it's a definitive post-Civil Rights Era anthem that I'll put up against anything from James Brown.

(Jeff takes over from here):

Barretto's records for Fania were some of the label's firsts, and paved the way for the experimental, probing, but always relentlessly dance-able records to follow. Barretto found the groove and then opened it wide.

Fania Records ushered in the "Golden Age of Salsa", and the historical parallels to what happened in hip-hop during the late 80s are striking. Salsa was a conscious effort to frame a particular world-view in sound: an Afrocentric brown-power music, if you will. Barretto's contribution was key. Album manifestos like Que Viva La Musica and Barretto Power made him the KRS-One of salsa, to Eddie Palmieri's Chuck D.

(You might even think of Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe as the Ice Cube and Dr. Dre of salsa. The very existence of the Fania All-Stars was extraordinary—as if the Stop the Violence Movement wasn't just a one-off but a central, ongoing project!)

Just as importantly, Barretto helped shape Fania's seminal sound, which was essentially a Puerto Rican update of classic Cuban music, extended into descargas or jams. To extend Oliver's observation above, the sound was meant to move past the fast cycle of dance crazes into something more capital-I "Important", something that was literally art for the people, in exactly the same way that P.E. set out to end an era characterized by fads like the Wop, the Cabbage Patch, and the Robocop with a conscious nod to a tradition of Black music and political struggle. Salsa took it black to the future.

One of Barretto's biggest hits, "Cocinando", alludes to Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" and Celia Cruz and La Sonora Matancera's "Cha Cha Guere", but extends the themes into a nice long solo vehicle. At once, the music is meant to be more contemplative and virtuousic. The version here by the Fania All-Stars—where I've edited in a brief interview with him at the beginning—is from the label's biggest sound-and-vision statement, the movie feature Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa).

In the mid-70s, now feeling stifled by salsa, Barretto left Fania. In a sense he was right on time. Groups like Santana, El Chicano, Malo, War, Earth, Wind & Fire, and War had taken Latin rhythms into the pop mainstream. And this was also the heyday of what would become known as the breakbeat—with Latinized, globalized funk coming from the Jimmy Castor Bunch, the Incredible Bongo Band, and Babe Ruth. The time had finally come for the sounds Barretto had pioneered during the 60s. In the liner notes to the classic 1976 live album Tomorrow, he wrote, "Gracias to la gente, the people who came out and kept us alive while they waited for the rest of the world to catch up!"

"Slo Flo" is a monster jam from that album. Barretto's playing is masterful throughout, and this is an all-but-forgotten gem of the era, known mainly to serious Latin music heads and breakbeat fans. Like a lot of other Latin musicians, he migrated toward disco. It was simply the latest dance thing. A hustle anthem, "Stargazer", is from 1978, and Barretto's precision breakdowns would be imitated by house bands who played behind the earliest hip-hop records between 1979 and 1982.

Though he never got the credit, it's hard to conceive of hip-hop's backbeat these days without Hard Hands. He laid it down, and people followed, improvised on over it, whether with their sampling machines or their hips. He never asked for much more.

Be sure also to visit Captain Crate's Barretto tribute.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

posted by O.W.

Pharcyde: She Said (remix)
From 12" (Delicious Vinyl, 1996)

A Tribe Called Quest: Busta's Lament
From The Love Movement (Jive, 1998)

Slum Village: Fall In Love
From Fantastic Vol 2. (Goodvibe, 2000)

Jay Dee: Fuck the Police
From 12" (Up Above, 2001)

Jay Dee: Last Donut of the Night
From Donuts (Stonesthrow, 2006)

I was originally planning on writing a Jay Dee primer but emotionally, it just seemed a bit too distanced. I'll do another post later for the uninitiated but today's is meant to be more personal.

Let me start by saying that I had never really thought of Jay Dee as one of my favorite producers of all time. I had always liked his work, respected how much others respected him, but when I think about my favorite beatmakers, names like DJ Premier or Diamond D or even Kanye West and Just Blaze tend to pop up first.

Yet, when I went back and started listening to older Dilla songs, I was struck 1) by how much I still liked them, including ones that are 10 years old and 2) that there was something very distinctive about Jay Dee's production that explained why they weren't always at the forefront of my mind.

My friend Hua nailed it right on the head: Dilla's beats were "anti-anthemic" which is quite unlike other hip-hop songs which deliberately want to stick in your head as much as possible. It's not that Dilla wanted his tracks to be ignored but their brilliance were precisely in how subtle they were. Jay Dee filtered most of his samples, sponging over obvious melodic loops or snippets, and instead, left you with impressions and moods, or as Hua noted, "textures and ambiance." If all this sounds rather vague that's exactly the point: Dilla's tracks had a kind of vagueness to them: you couldn't always pinpoint where the "hook" was. Instead, it's the "feel" of the beat that beckoned you in, wrapped you in its warmth (and Dilla's beats all exuded warmth), and generally, left you feeling good.

Case in point: the "She Said" remix was one of Dilla's early productions (he had, of course, produced much of Labcabincalifornia, much to the delight of some, the horror of others) and despite the song's more melancholy content, the track has that "happy/sad" quality that great songwriters aim for. On a personal level, when I was listening to this again, it brought back a rush of nostalgia though I'm not even sure for what. I had this vision of listening to it, driving through West L.A. which might be possible though I think the song actually invented a memory rather than tapped into an old one.

"Busta's Lament" was a random album track off A Tribe Called Quest's final album but I liked it best of all the songs on that LP. This, to me, is what a "happy" track should sound like; music that brings a smile to your lips, brightens your day but isn't saccharin or cheesy. I remember actually putting the song on a mixtape but I mastered it from CASSETTE because the vinyl wasn't out yet; that's how much I liked it.

"Fall In Love" is one of the first Slum Village songs I heard and from what I've seen, it is, by far, the favorite SV track for a lot of cats. It's such a perfect Jay Dee track: start with that crunchy breakbeat, then drop in that mesmerizing (filtered) sample that embodies the Dilla aesthetic; it smudges over the obvious parts of the sample (except on the chorus) yet you can't get enough of it. Great hook too.

"Fuck the Police" is another fan favorite - when it first came out, people were blown away by it, not just because of the song title (which, by 2001, is rather tame if you think about it) but the track was insane with its blistering, crackling drums and that flute sample running underneath. This is one of the exceptions to the "anti-anthem" standard: this song was meant to be heard and remembered even if Dilla had to drill a hole in your head to do it.

Lastly, it seems only appropriate to include something from Donuts, the album that came out just the Tuesday before Dilla passed. With a melancholy heart, I noted that the very last song on the album was called "The Last Donut of the Night." (And the song before that is called "Bye"). Seemed only right to end on that note.

Saw this on the website:
    "On behalf of Mrs. Yancey we ask that in lieu of flowers, any heartfelt donations be made payable and sent to a fund which has been established in her name:

    Made Payable to Mrs. Maureen Yancey

    Donations can be mailed to:

    Maureen Yancey
    132 N. Sycamore Avenue
    Los Angeles, CA 90036

    Bank Wires can be sent to:

    Wells Fargo Bank of Los Angeles, CA
    Routing Number: 122000247
    Account Number: 6043250676

    Please note that donations made to Mrs. Yancey are not considered a charitable deduction. This will be considered a gift of help."

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

posted by O.W.

No time to post something more meaningful except to say that Smith was one of the greatest keyboardists out there and as good an ambassador for the B3 Hammond organ as you could hope for.

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