Donald “Duck” Dunn

Back in he 60’s, you wanted to make music – you needed a band. There wasn’t any electronic machinery to make appropriate noises at pre-planned intervals. There wa no wizard circuitry to cover up the fact that your lead couldn’t sing…

1970 Pic of Booker T and the MGs. From left to tight Al Jackson, Jr., Booker T. Jones, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and Steve Cropper.

That band for a lot of famous groups either on or associated with the STAX Label was Booker T and the MGs, who individually or as a group backed up just about anyone who was anyone in Southern Rock or Southern R&B for over 20 years. They and the Funk Brothers out of Detroit (the Motown Sound machine) defined not only soul or R&B music – but often played with rock groups. A short list of R&B Greats these guys backed included  Otis ReddingSam & DaveAlbert KingJohnnie TaylorEddie FloydThe Staple SingersWilson Pickett, and Delaney & Bonnie. A session player for the group was Isaac Hayes. Among the groups they influenced were the Beatles.

The distinctive sound of the group came from the Hammond B-3 and later the H-3 Organ, played by Booker T, and Issac Hayes – combined with the tightest base line possible laid down by Donald “Duck” Dunn, who would also play as bass for the The Blues BrothersMuddy WatersFreddie KingAlbert KingNeil YoungJerry Lee LewisEric ClaptonTom PettyCreedence Clearwater RevivalWilson PickettSam & DaveGuy SebastianRod StewartBob DylanRoy BuchananArthur Conley, Stephen Stills, and Eric Clapton.

Dunn used a sunburst Fender Precision bass with a rosewood fretboard and a red pickguard. In 1998, Dunn collaborated with Fender to produce a signature Precision Bass, a candy apple red-colored model based on the late 1950s style, with a gold anodized pickguard, a split-coil humbucking pickup and vintage hardware. The Duck Dunn P-Bass became the basis for a Skyline Series signature bass made by Chicago bass company Lakland a few years later, which is still available.

Booker T and MGs Bassist Dunn Dies

Bass player and songwriter Donald “Duck” Dunn, a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame band Booker T. and the MGs and the Blues Brothers band, has died in Tokyo. He was 70. Dunn was in Tokyo for a series of shows. News of his death was posted on the Facebook site of his friend and fellow musician Steve Cropper, who was on the same tour. Cropper said Dunn died in his sleep.

A spokeswoman for Tokyo Blue Note, the last venue Dunn played, confirmed he died alone early today. She had no further details. Dunn, who was born in Memphis, Tenn., in 1941, performed on recordings with Eric Clapton, Neil Young, and many others, and specialized in blues, gospel, and soul. He played himself in the 1980 hit movie, The Blues Brothers. He received a lifetime achievement Grammy award in 2007 for his work with Booker T. and the MGs.

No “Green Onions” for this – I think a little “Time is Tight” is in order -

Chaka Khan, Chaka Kan, Chaka!

Take a list among black men of age in the early 70’s of the 10 sexiest female R&B vocalists – and you can bet Chaka Khan is at or near the top of the list.

The little woman with the big voice rocked stages around the world, before drugs and alcohol took a toll on her body, looks, and voice.

Chaka is back (looking damn good!) and last night at the newly reopened Howard Theater in DC, she brought down the house!

This is Chaka from the 70’s, with Rufus – doing one of her signature tunes -

This is the “new” and improved version from last night -

A svelte and sexy Chaka brings down the house

Chaka Khan takes crowd at Howard Theatre ‘Through the Fire’

In the middle of her hit “Through the Fire,” R&B powerhouse Chaka Khan stopped to give a personal testimony Saturday night at the Howard Theatre.

“I used to be a bad, bad, bad girl,” the 10-time Grammy winner told the sold-out show. “I used to party back in the day. I’d get off the road, and say to myself, ‘I need a break today.’ And I would leave my two kids with my mother and go AWOL.”

As she partied, Khan said, she carried her cellphone but would not answer it.

“Why wouldn’t you pick up the phone?” someone in the audience yelled at the diva on stage.

“Because,” Khan said, “when you are out there doing that stuff you don’t pick up the phone.”

But one night, “I was so high, I picked up.” Continue reading

RIP Etta James

Etta James Dead at 73

 Etta James has died at age 73, with her husband and sons by her bedside at a California hospital, her manager says. The legendary R&B chanteuse was reported to be “in pretty bad shape”in recent months; she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, andcourt documents revealed she was also suffering from dementia. The six-time Grammy winner will forever be best remembered for “At Last,” writes the AP, which reflects on the magnetic and saucy singer—whom it dubs “one of music’s original bad girls.”

“The bad girls … had the look that I liked,” James wrote in her 1995 autobiography. “I wanted to be rare, I wanted to be noticed, I wanted to be exotic as a Cotton Club chorus girl, and I wanted to be obvious as the most flamboyant hooker on the street. I just wanted to be.” And so a 15-year-old James forged her mother’s signature on a note claiming to be 18 and traveled from San Francisco to LA where she recorded “Roll With Me, Henry.” She spent the late ’50s and ’60s touring with big names like Little Richard and Fats Domino, before falling into a heroin addiction that took her two decades to kick. She eventually returned to the stage, but later struggled with her weight and a painkiller addiction. “At Last” was famously played at Barack Obama’s January 2009 inauguration—though James wasn’t altogether pleased.

Where is the Love?

The love ballad has seemingly left the scene in terms of black music in America. Every day chances that there will be another Bary White,  Teddy Pendergrass, or Luther seem to get dimmer and dimmer – as the assorted wannabes and no-talent noisemakers flood the scene…

An interesting take on why no more “Love” in R&B.

Where is the love in R&B music?

When I was a teenager trying to figure out what the ladies liked, I would turn on the TV on Saturday afternoons to catch “The hippest trip in America.”

I’d close my bedroom door to make sure my younger brother wasn’t watching, and then I’d imitate the latest dance moves on “Soul Train,” the African-American dance show. Standing in front of a mirror, I’d unleash a series of spasmodic dance moves before embarrassing myself too much to continue.

Soul Train’s dancers never had that problem. As the show’s festive theme song played, wiry dancers in tight double-knit pants shimmied across the dance floor. I loved the huge afros, the lapels that were so wide you could land a small plane on them, and the suave “Soul Train” host, Don Cornelius, who signed off each show by declaring, “We wish you love, peace … and sooooulllll!”

But most of all I loved the music on “Soul Train,” especially the slow jams. They had everything — evocative lyrics, head-bopping grooves, soaring string arrangements and a whole lot of talk about love.

Yet when I listen to R&B today, I ask myself the same question Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway posed in their classic 1972 duet: “Where is the Love?”

Listening to black music today is depressing. Songs on today’s urban radio playlists are drained of romance, tenderness and seduction. And it’s not just about the rise of hardcore hip-hop or rappers who denigrate women.

Black people gave the world Motown, Barry White and “Let’s Get It On.” But we don’t make love songs anymore.

Why?

I asked some of the stars who created the popular R&B classics of the late 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s. Their answer: The music changed because blacks lost something essential — something that all Americans, regardless of race, should regret.

“We had so much harmony”

Some of what we lost, they say, was an appreciation of love itself.

Earth Wind & Fire keyboardist and founding member Larry Dunn says a new generation of black R&B artists is more cynical because more come from broken homes and broken communities.

“How are you going to write about love when you don’t know what it is?” asks Dunn, whose new album “N2 The Journey” contains a remake of one of Earth Wind & Fire’s most famous ballads, “Reasons.”

EWF, which gave us 1970s classics such as “After the Love is Gone,” didn’t create songs just to make hits, Dunn says. They also wanted to change lives. The group was known for songs like “Devotion” and “Shining Star” that celebrated love of self and God.

Those sentiments may sound hokey now, but Dunn says EWF could tell their songs had the intended effect. People played EWF love songs at their proms and weddings, and people still write letters of thanks to the group today.

“We had one guy who came up to us before a show and told us that we had helped him get off heroin,” says Dunn, who is as relentlessly upbeat and warm as EWF’s music.

Kenny Gamble brought the same ambition to his sound. Gamble is the co-founder of Philadelphia International Records, known as the Motown of the ’70s. The record label patented “Philly Soul” — tight, sophisticated arrangements with lush strings that formed the backdrop for classic love songs such as Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” and Teddy Pendergrass’ “Come Go With Me.”

Yet Gamble’s songs were also driven by black pride and self-help. With his co-producer and songwriter Leon Huff, Gamble created social conscience anthems like “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and “Love Train” by The O’Jays.

Both the love songs and those with messages sprang from the same source, the belief that loving one another and your community was important, says Gamble, who still lives in Philadelphia renovating blighted neighborhoods through his nonprofit, Universal Companies.

“We had so much harmony, so much purpose in our music,” he says. “Our whole purpose was the message is in the music, and that message was to love one another and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Love songs flowered during that era also because black people were more optimistic, music critic Rashod Ollison wrote in an essay on Barry White, the rotund singer with what Ollison described as the “low-as-the-ocean-floor bass voice” who gave us love songs such as “Never Gonna’ Give You Up.”… (more)

In my view the tightest close harmony done in the past 50 years… Ever notice nobody ever tries to cover the old Dells or Harold Melvin songs? That harmony born of 20 or more years singing together is the reason – and you ain’t gettin’ that out of a synthesizer in 15 minutes on the cheap…

Etta James Has Dementia, Lukemia

Etta James ill, family battles over money

Singer Etta James, known best for her iconic recording of “At Last,” is gravely ill, diagnosed with dementia and undergoing treatment for leukemia, according to court documents.

The 72-year-old Woodcrest resident’s illness came to light as part of a civil case in Riverside County Superior Court in which Artis Mills, her husband of 41 years, is seeking control of more than $1 million of James’ money.

Her son Donto James wrote in a court declaration that he does not object to money being released for her health care. But he is asking that it be overseen by a third party, “to avoid present and future family conflict and discrepancies.”

Dr. Elaine James, no relation to the singer, declared in the court documents that the singer has multiple medical conditions, including dementia, an organic brain syndrome and a recent diagnosis of leukemia.

The Beverly Hills doctor said she and other medical staff give James continuous medical care and supervision in the singer’s home in the Woodcrest area, near Riverside.

Dr. James said the singer isn’t able to sign her name and requires assistance with feeding, dressing and hygiene, but does recognize her husband and children. The doctor said James has been admitted to the hospital on occasion but returns home with round-the-clock care.

 

Ball and Chain

Some fun here! Got into a discussion today about 60’s music. Somehow, on YouTube, looking up a song, I came up with this -

Big Momma Thornton wrote this song …

Then I remembered Janis Joplin also tore this song up in her interpretation at Monterey Pop in ’67 -

This version by Etta James -

Funny thing is, Janis did it in respect for Big Momma… And Etta did it in salute to Janis.

 

Heard It Through The Grapevine – Gladys Night Slams Hip Hop

Legendary Singer Gladys Knight Slams Hip-Hop Music

Legendary R&B singer Gladys Knight had some harsh words for the genre of Hip-Hop in a recent interview.

During an interview with BlackNews.com, Knight said that Hip-Hop had created opportunities for young artists, but the slammed the genre of music, claiming it had set back African-Americans as a race.

“It’s been bad, in my opinion, as far as the quality of the music and the stories that they tell. It’s one thing to be raw about your history, but they took it to another level and it became vulgar,” Knight said.

She also claimed that Hip-Hop had not “elevated our industry musically,” before blaming the music for a number of issues within the African-American community.

“It definitely has not elevated us as African-Americans, because we show disrespect for our partners, men and women,” Knight stated. “I believe we have lowered our self-esteem with these performances and presentations.”

Have to go with Gladys here. Maybe I’m just becomming an old fart, and I remember how my parents felt about the music I listened to as a kid…

But – to quote BB King, “The Thrill is Gone”.

A lot of it has to do with sampling, and the next logical step which was to outright steal the music created by real musicians, overdubbing it with new lyrics. The disappearance of real instruments lends a plastic quality to the music, and the massive overdubbing of base to make the music sound balanced on cheap low quality devices destroys any balance. Further, there is even a device which will translate a singers voice from being off-key to on key – ergo, whatever is (or isn’t in the case of lip-syncing) going into the microphone has absolutely nothing to do anymore with what is coming out the other end.

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