Tag Archives: R&B

At 90. Chuck Berry Releases First Album in 40 Years


At 90, Chuck Berry to release first new album in four decades

Chuck Berry (Reuters)

Rock ‘n’ roll legend Chuck Berry celebrated his 90th birthday on Tuesday by announcing that his first album of new music in 38 years would be released next year.

Called simply “Chuck,” the album will consist mostly of new, original material recorded and produced by Berry, his record company said.

Berry’s children, Charles Berry Jr. on guitar and Ingrid Berry on harmonica, form part of his backing band on the record. The specific date of the album’s release was not mentioned.

“What an honor to be part of this new music,” Berry Jr. said in a statement. “The St. Louis band, or as dad called us the Blueberry Hill Band, fell right into the groove and followed his lead. These songs cover the spectrum from hard-driving rockers to soulful thought-provoking time capsules of a life’s work.”

Berry said he was dedicating the new album to his wife of 68 years, Themetta. “My darlin’ I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!” the musician said in a statement.

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Posted by on October 18, 2016 in Music, From Way Back When to Now


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Racism and Rock and Roll

There is no question that Rock and Roll owes it’s roots to black music. And in the 50’s and even early 60’s songs written by black musicians were stolen and made hugely popular with white audiences by segregated radio. It took decades for those black artists to receive compensation for their work. The first Rock Superstar was Elvis Presley, although there were a number of others, including Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis who aspired to the throne. Several of Elvis’ big hits were covers of black musicians music. Bu he also “borrowed” from white musicians. In particular Blue Suede Shoes was a cover of Carl Perkins.

Elvis learned his chops playing with, and befriending black musicians. Because of his “Rockabilly” style, upbringing, and birthplace, a lot of black folks assumed Elvis was a bigot. There is no evidence to support that, although in a racist South, he, like all of the 50’s rock musicians performed with all white bands. The people who actually performed in the Studio recordings however – were a different story.

The Truth About Elvis and the History of Racism in Rock

Racism In Rock

Elvis has long been vilified as the face of racism and cultural appropriation in rock music—but it’s the legacy of the genre (and the truth about Elvis) that merits closer scrutiny.

Rock music’s legacy is conflicted.

It’s a genre that transformed American culture in a way that re-shaped racial dynamics, but it also came to embody them. Music that at one point in the 1950s seemed to herald the deterioration of racial boundaries, gender norms and cultural segregation had, by the 1970s, become re-defined as a white-dominated, male-dominated multi-million dollarindustry. In the years between, rock ‘n’ roll matured into “rock” and the counterculture embraced anti-establishment ideas like integration and women’s rights—without ever really investing in tearing down white supremacy in any real, measurable way. In that, rock’s history with race is sometimes naïve, sometimes willfully ignorant, and sometimes undeniably hypocritical.

“Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me. See straight up racist that sucker was, simple and plain…”

It’s one of the most well-known and significant lines in hip-hop history. Public Enemy’s high-profile smackdown of white America’s “King of Rock ‘N’ Roll” resonated and reverberated throughout hip-hop nation in a way that even overshadowed the Flavor Flavlyrical gut-punch of John Wayne that completed the infamous couplet. On a certain level, the line was symbolic of hip-hop’s intentional dismantling of America’s white iconography; this was a new generation that wasn’t going to be beholden to your heroes or your standards. We’ve got our own voice, it announced. You will be forced to reckon with that voice.

That line also hit so hard because Elvis Presley’s racism has long been a part of his image and reputation in the black community. His notorious quote (“The only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes”), solidified his villainy amongst black people. His is the legacy of cultural appropriation and white privilege—made doubly offensive by the fact that he was so dismissive and contemptuous of the black people from whom he’d stolen rock ‘n’ roll.

But—what if none of that was actually true?

The “shine my shoes” quote came from a 1957 article called “How Negroes Feel About Elvis,” published in a periodical called Sepia. The Ft. Worth-based magazine had been founded by Horace Blackwell, a clothing merchant; but by the mid-’50s had been bought by Jewish-American merchant George Levitan. It was by now white-owned but had a black staff and was still marketed to black readers, a publication superficially in the vein of EBONY but often with a more sensationalist slant.

“Some Negroes are unable to forget that Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, hometown of the foremost Dixie race baiter, former Congressman Jon Rankin,” read the article. “Others believe a rumored crack by Elvis during a Boston appearance in which he is alleged to have said: ‘The only thing Negroes can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records.’”

At the time of the article’s publication, Elvis Presley had never been to Boston. It was also alleged that he’d said it on Edward R. Murrow‘s Person to Person TV show—but he hadn’t appeared there either. Louie Robinson, Jet magazine’s associate editor, tried tracing the actual origins of the quote and came up empty. So he tracked down Elvis himself, interviewing the singer in his Jailhouse Rock dressing room in the summer of 1967.

“I never said anything like that,” Elvis said at the time. “And people who know me know I wouldn’t have said it.”

“A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” Elvis continued, regarding his “King of Rock ‘N’ Roll” status and reputation. “But rock ‘n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let’s face it; I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that. But I always liked that kind of music.”

“I always wanted to sing like Billy Kenny of the Ink Spots,” Elvis was further quoted as saying in the Jet interview. “I like that high, smooth style.” But Presley acknowledged that his own voice was more in line with the originator of the song that he would cover for his first single. “I never sang like this in my life until I made that first record—‘That’s Alright, Mama.’ I remembered that song because I heard Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup sing it and I thought I would like to try it.”

Presley had grown up on the “black side” of Tupelo, he’d run with the likes of Ike Turner in his early days as a musician and became close friends with B.B. King and eventually James Brown, Cissy Houston and Muhammad Ali. The racism that he’s been branded with because of a phantom quote seems to be a fabrication. But rock’s legacy as a genre pioneered by black people before white artists discovered it, white media re-branded it and white audiences embraced it means that despite Elvis not spouting racist ideas, his legacy is still rooted in racism—even if that racism isn’t directly born of the man himself. He attained his stature because he was not black and in doing so, he opened the doors for a generation of his disciples to reap those same benefits. And when examining the histories of so many of those notables, there is a legacy that is as conflicted as it is confounding.

Not unlike the history of rock itself.

To a generation of long-haired hippies, Elvis came to symbolize the antiquated era of malt shops and sock hops or a rock ‘n’ roller who’d grown up to be a stale old fart, churning out shlock. He may have aided in the white embrace of black music, but he hadn’t sang at the March on Washington like Bob Dylan, nor had he championed Bobby Seale like John Lennon. In the era of pop stars as quasi-revolutionaries, Elvis had become the establishment. The ’60s generation was about change. …Read the Rest Here


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Billy Paul – 1936-2016

Philly R&B Crooner Billy Paul, whose hit single “Me and Mrs Jones” was a huge hit has passed.

Billy Paul, soul singer best known for Me and Mrs Jones, dies

Billy Paul, the soul singer best known for the number one hit and Philadelphia soul classic, Me and Mrs Jones, has died aged 80.

Paul, whose career spanned for more than 60 years, died at his home in Blackwood, New Jersey, his co-manager, Beverly Gay, told Associated Press. Paul, 80, had been diagnosed recently with pancreatic cancer, Gay said.

Known for his beard and large glasses, Paul was one of many singers who found success with the writing and producing team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, whose Philadelphia International Records also released music by the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and Lou Rawls.

Martha Reeves, the Motown singer, was among those who paid tribute on social media.

Me and Mrs Jones, which reached number one in the US at the end of 1972 and number 12 in the UK, was an extramarital confession and a characteristic Gamble and Huff production, setting Paul’s thick tenor against a lush and sensuous arrangement. Many fans best remember the moment when Paul’s otherwise subtle vocals jump as they reach the title words, stretching out “Me” and “And” into multiple syllables and repeating “Mrs Jones, Mrs Jones, Mrs Jones.” (Paul himself was married to the same woman for decades).

Paul’s voice made him “one of the great artists to come out of Philly and to be celebrated worldwide”, Gamble and Huff said in a statement late Sunday.

“Our proudest moment with Billy was the recording of the salacious smash Me and Mrs Jones. In our view, it is one of the greatest love songs ever recorded,” they said.

My favorite cover of Paul’s hit song was by the Dramatics in the Old Style of group R&B…


Posted by on April 27, 2016 in Music, From Way Back When to Now


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R&B Top Ten April 1968

Just for the fun of it, these R&B bands made it to the National Top Ten in April 1968

9. “I Got the Feelin’,” James Brown and the Famous Flames

8. “Dance to the Music,” Sly and the Family Stone

6. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Otis Redding

5. “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone,” Aretha Franklin


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Posted by on April 14, 2016 in Music, From Way Back When to Now


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R&B Lives…Charles Bradley

R&B isn’t quite dead yet!

Charles Bradley on long road to becoming the “screaming eagle of soul”

Success was a long-time coming for singer Charles Bradley, who was born in 1948 but released his debut album just five years ago. His experiences during those 60-plus years make for quite a story — fitting for a soul man strongly influenced by the late James Brown, reports “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Anthony Mason.

Early in his late-blooming career, Bradley’s backing band gave him a nickname: The “screaming eagle of soul.”

The “screaming eagle” got his inspiration from the “Godfather.” Bradley was a teenager in 1962 when his sister took him to the Apollo in Harlem to see James Brown perform.

“That’s what started it ’cause I always liked the blues, but see, James Brown is the one who put rhythm in the blues. And that’s what made it funky,” Bradley said. “And I said, ‘Now that’s what I want to be.'”

But through his first five decades, Bradley drifted between jobs. He worked as a short order cook in Maine, at a hospital for the mentally ill in New York, and much more.

“Jesus, I can’t count because I was like anywhere, anyone was going to give me a job that made me keep going. I hitchhiked to Ketchikan, Alaska,” Bradley said.

Bradley was in his fifties when he finally landed back in Brooklyn. In 2011, he was doing a James Brown tribute show in Essence Bar in Brooklyn when he was spotted by Daptone Records, who paired him with producer Tom Brennick.

“He said, ‘You do James Brown. You’re good at James Brown. Now we want to see you do you,'” Bradley recalled.

Brennick wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

“Tom kept drilling me and I thought he was one of the evilest persons in this world. And he said, ‘No, you can hit that note’ and I said, ‘Tom you trying to burn my throat out, you know?’ And he said, ‘Charles, do it again.'”

But with that, Bradley gained something he did not know he had.

At age 62, Bradley finally got his break when Daptone released his debut album in 2011. The small Brooklyn label had had success with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings ,who’d also played on the Grammy-winning Amy Winehouse album, “Back to Black.”

The age wasn’t a concern for Neal Sugarman, co-founder of the label. In fact, the reaction surpassed all expectations.

“People were responding to it. And it was – it was amazing,” Sugarman said.

Bradley pours himself into every performance. Last year, he even went on stage the night he lost his beloved mother, which he called the “hardest thing I’ve ever did in my life.”

“If I didn’t, I think I really, truly would have hurt myself. I couldn’t take no more and I was looking anywhere I could go to get this pain out of me,” Bradley said.

He thinks of her, he said, whenever he sings the title track of his new album, a cover of the black Sabbath song, “Changes.”

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Posted by on April 9, 2016 in Music, From Way Back When to Now


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Otis Clay

Last of the last…

Years ago, when you listened to black radio, and crossed the Mason Dixon Line on the way South – the artists and type of Soul Music you heard was quite different. Singers  like Mrs Jody, Billy Soul Bonds,  Denise LaSalle, Ronnie Lovejoy, and Willie Clayton did’t quite translate in terms of mass popularity, despite singers like Johnnie Taylor and Tyrone Davis becoming very popular.

Otis Clay, Hall Of Fame Rhythm And Blues Singer, Dies At 73

“Otis was the last standard-bearer for deep southern soul music.”

Hall of fame rhythm and blues artist Otis Clay, known as much for his big heart and charitable work in Chicago as for his singing internationally, died Friday. He was 73.

The Mississippi-born Clay – whose gruff, tenor-tinged voice on blues songs such as “Trying to Live My Life Without You” varied from his haunting but hopeful baritone on gospel standards like “When the Gates Swing Open” – died suddenly of a heart attack at 6:30 p.m., said his daughter, Ronda Tankson.

The one-time Grammy nominee had a year of touring planned behind recent records and recognition at May’s 37th Blues Music Awards, manager Miki Mulvehill said. Clay is nominated for Soul-Blues Male Artist and Soul-Blues Album for “This Time for Real,” his collaboration with Billy Price.

“Otis was the last standard-bearer for deep southern soul music, the really gospel-inflected music that was in its heyday in the late ’60s and early and mid ’70s,” Price told The Associated Press on Saturday. “These styles change, and different styles are in the forefront, but Otis was just as strong in the past five years … For that reason, he was an icon for a lot of us who work in this genre.”

European music enthusiasts and record-collectors flock to Clay’s music because of its spare, “unvarnished” style wrought of the 1960s soul scenes in Memphis, Tennessee and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Price said.

A 2013 Blues Hall of Fame inductee who moved to blues-steeped Chicago in 1957, Clay had just begun planning a gospel tour of the U.S., followed by a summer European tour and, later, the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise, Mulvehill said. His latest album is called, “Truth Is.”

But Clay was much more than a talented musician. A resident of Chicago’s West Side, he was an avid humanitarian whose charitable works included assisting development of the Harold Washington Cultural Center.

“Otis was the first one to jump on the ‘Can I help?’ train,” Mulvehill said.

Tankson, a Chicago special education teacher whose pupils include autistic children, said her father gave little thought to what benefit he’d get from performing and held nothing back, even when appearing for her students.

“He sang to them as if they paid and he was on stage,” Tankson said.

Friends and co-workers of Tankson’s, whom Clay had never met, repeatedly asked if he would sing “When the Gates Swing Open” at loved ones’ funerals. “He never let me down on that,” she said, adding that he once delayed a recording-session trip to Memphis to comply.

Clay was born Feb. 11, 1942 in Waxhaw, Mississippi, to a musical and religious family, according to his online biography. After his arrival in Chicago, he joined the Golden Jubilaires, and in 1960 became part of Charles Bridges’ Famous Blue Jay Singers, performing a cappella at schools and hotels.

“We were known as variety singers, or we were billed as (performing) ‘Old Negro Spirituals and Plantation Melodies,'” Clay said in his biography.

His recording debut came in 1965 with the rousing ballad, “Flame in Your Heart.” Four decades later, in 2007, he was nominated for a Grammy for the gospel CD, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.”

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Posted by on January 12, 2016 in Music, From Way Back When to Now


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Legend of 50’s Do-Wop, First of the R&B Soul Groups — The Orioles and Diz Russell

Earlington Tilghman created one of the most influential vocal groups of all time when he formed the Vibranairs in Baltimore after World War II. Tilghman was better known as Sonny Til, a charismatic tenor who loved rich arrangements and had a knack for picking (and writing) great material.

After 60 years, this R&B singer’s wife said it was time to retire. Then came his final show.

“I never thought I would be this old,” Diz Russell said.

Sitting on the worn black leather couch in his sunlit Capitol Heights, Md., living room, the 81-year-old singer was surrounded by reminders of a long, busy life . Framed photographs, record covers and concert posters hung below a red sign proclaiming “THE LEGENDARY ORIOLES.” There was a black-and-white portrait of the band members from the 1950s, with a fresh-faced Diz in the middle. Here was a photo of Diz sitting on a committee for longtime mayor Marion Barry — “my buddy,” he said.

But mostly he nodded and smiled behind tinted glasses as his wife of 59 years, Millie Russell, explained the mementos on their wall. The nostalgia-heavy decor of Millie’s careful selection is largely lost on Diz, who became blind from a cataract at age 55.

Since then, Millie, 75, has been watchful. When Diz shuffled out of the room and came back with white foam around his lips, she furrowed her brow. “You didn’t do too good of a job shaving,” she said, getting up to wipe the cream from his chin.

They met backstage at the Howard Theatre, when Millie was 13 and Diz was 19. Millie was in the crowd for a show with Jackie Wilson, and she spotted a jeans-clad fellow on her way out. He told her that he was a singer.

“You don’t look like a singer to me,” she retorted.

Diz responded with a chuckle, “Honey, you better believe it.”

They married four years later, shortly after Diz joined the Orioles, the band widely recognized as the first R&B vocal group and credited with popularizing the musical style in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Although the version of the group that Diz sang with was considered its second generation — after frontman Sonny Til broke away from the original Orioles and started a new combo, tacking on the “Legendary” to distinguish them from the baseball team — he still recalls the band being in hot demand wherever it went, selling out shows in Texas, Michigan and at their home base in Baltimore…

Wife Millie Russell, who has managed the band for 34 years


For 34 years, Millie has been Diz’s band manager. For 26, she’s been his eyes. More recently, she’s become his memory.

The diagnosis of early-onset dementia came almost a year ago, although there were signs before then. Sometimes the name of a close friend would draw a blank, or Diz would claim to have misplaced a piece of clothing that he never owned. As bandmates brought their equipment inside for their weekly Friday rehearsals, Diz still held a shaving razor in his left hand as if he’d forgotten to put it down.

When Diz rambles about his past, Millie tends to roll her eyes and swat the air, as if his distorted memories were swarming like flies. But when she vocalizes her disagreement with his version of history, he’s quick to contest.

“I know this,” he said through gritted teeth. “I lived this.”

But Millie doesn’t trust those stories anymore. She winced recalling Diz stumbling on the lyrics to “Baby Please Don’t Go” — one of the group’s greatest hits — while performing at Echostage last November. He skipped the second verse entirely and went straight to the last.

The band kept playing as if it was business as usual, and likely no one in the audience noticed, but for Millie the incident was searing.

“I won’t let him embarrass himself like that,” she said. The band’s 68th-anniversary celebration at Mr. Henry’s restaurant on Capitol Hill was to be Diz’s last major performance before going into “semi-retirement,” a dignified term for a plan to suspend all but the occasional cameo.

After so many decades as her husband’s right hand, Millie admitted that she was also ready for a slower pace. A sense of injustice dogs her view of their relationship.

“You think if it was the woman who needed so much help, the husband would stay?” she said.

“She’s steadfast,” Diz nodded.

“A man is weak,” Millie said. “And I’m tired.”

But the band will stay in Russell hands. After Millie retires as manager, their 52-year-old son, Christopher, will take up the mantle….Read the Rest Here

A very early hit by the group in 1948  –


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Posted by on September 4, 2015 in Music, From Way Back When to Now


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