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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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#1 in Country Music – Darius Rucker

There has always been a thing line between Southern R&B and Country music. Ray Charles had several hits which crossed over, and his album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, including the his “I Can’r Stop Loving You” is considered by many to be a a classic of the genre.

Darius Rucker, formerly of Southern Rock Band Hootie and the Blowfish has become one of the very big stars of the Country Music genre, with his last 4 albums going Number 1.

His newest release “Southern Style” –

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in Music, From Way Back When to Now

 

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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 –

 
 

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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.” Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

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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.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Music, From Way Back When to Now

 

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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…

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2011 in Black History, Music, From Way Back When to Now

 

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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.

 

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2011 in Music, From Way Back When to Now

 

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