Reclaimed Soul’s Ayana Contreras spoke with Jazz vocalist Maggie Brown, daughter of Oscar Brown, Jr. Maggie is passionate about preserving the legacy of her father’s community-engaged artistry.
The Opportunity Please Knock Chorus (a creative collaboration between singer/writer/playwright Oscar Brown Jr. and the notorious Blackstone Rangers street gang) premiered 50 years ago. Mr. Brown stated in 1967, “They’re not too disillusioned to work hard-if they ever had and illusions at all. It is up to us to give them a better picture of reality.”
As we look for solutions to quell today’s violence in our communities and to get kids off the streets, this is a notable model of artist intervention from Chicago’s past.
This was recorded at a live event at Thalia Hall in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.
click here for more on the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus.
Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 91.1fm
Do the Camel Walk! Last week on Reclaimed Soul, host Ayana Contreras played this rare local Chicago Blues/Soul record by Bobby Rush (not the former Black Panther turned Politician) from about 1968.
In case you were wondering how to do the then-popular dance, here’s a clip of James Brown asking Sammy Davis, Jr. if he “remembers” how to do it. And he does it. And it’s pretty great.
…But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. James Brown at the time was known for integrating the Camel Walk into his stage show. But the dance had its roots way back in the 1920s as a ragtime dance… So, it was retro even in the 1960s. Good things come back around. Or, so they say. Jive on.
“People Try” b/w “What is Wrong With Grovin'” is a hip little record from about 1968 by the Early Editions. It’s a Chicago record, crafted by James Mack on the Aries label, but not much else is known about the group itself. My best educated guess is that the group consisted of a lounge act and/or some studio session vocalists.
UPDATE:I found out from Theresa Davis (a one-time member of The Emotions, and an amazing session and solo vocalist, as well) that the group consisted of three of her sisters and one of her cousins. Below is an image of the group.
Anyway, both sides of this record are pretty great. give a listen to snippets from both sides below. “People Try” is a peppy-yet-hip bossa nova romp, while “What is Wrong With Grovin'” is a cover of an afro-pop record by Hugh “Grazin in the Grass” Masekela.
Chicago was testing the waters as a “world city” via music, apparently.
From Frank D’Rone’s Cadet/Chess album “Brand New Morning” released in 1968 (arguably Cadet’s creative peak), “Think I Will” was arranged by Richard Evans and is the Brother record to Clea Bradford’s bananas Sister cut “My Love’s a Monster” (also from Cadet in 1968). Yes. The horns are so mighty, and that guitar work is extra-tasty… I think I’ll jive on, too!
So here’s the little narrative I pieced together from the two records… First, in the record above, poor unsuspecting Frank decides to go out on the town (maybe to Mister Kelly’s, or something). He thinks he’ll fool around with some girl’s heart. That is until he meets Clea (listen below what goes down next).
I love how the chunky electric keys interplay with the swirling strings, and Monk’s swinging saxophone.
Monk Higgins was born Milton Bland in Arkansas. He was already a staple on the Chicago Scene when he released this cut on Chess in 1968 (just before he went to LA, bringing fellow Chicago Scenesters Freddie Robinson and Mamie Galore for the ride).
UPDATE: For more Lovely versions of this classic composition (and a touch of drama), check the comments of this post.
The title cut off this 1968 album is a bluesy monster produced by Charles Stepney with more than enough groove to stay squarely in the pocket. Also on this album is the local hit “Up in Heah”, another blues-infused party track. Both of the records will make sceptics rethink the blues. According to the back of the album:
“Talk about somebody being “tuff” enough. One night in Pepper’s Lounge, a little night spot on Chicago’s South Side, Junior Wells was introduced as “the little Giant of the blues”. It was around midnight and the Chatter that had been incessant for about three hours ceased. In cool dignity the little black walked to the stage, and said: “I’m gonna sing them damn blues, and you’d better dig it.” This audience at Pepper’s where all the blues greats have passed through and left their mark, is as hip an audience as any performer ever faced. When you bring them slow blues it better be nasty, and when you swing it better make them move. Shoot blanks and you won’t last long. Junior Wells could stay there eternally. “
Minnie Ripertonwas, of course, so much more than her 1976 smash “Loving You”. I won’t even attempt to jam her legacy into a blog post. She was a mother (to SNL alum Maya Rudolph), a lover, (to Dick Rudolph) and a righteous songbird. Riperton (pictured above, 1968 [photo courtesy jeff lockard]) and her soaring soprano were featured in the Rock-Soul outfit Rotary Connection. Rotary Connection was the jazzy soulful dirty hippie baby of genius producer Charles Stepney and Marshall Chess (son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess, and a visionary in his own right).
Certainly their most anthologized track is “I am the Black Gold of the Sun” (above), but each of their albums produced its crop of nuggets (my favorites are “Songs”, “Hey Love”, and “Aladdin”). The sound was a cross-section of Rock, Gospel, Soul, and Jazz nearly as big as the City of Big Shoulders that spawned it. Featuring Minnie Riperton on lead vocals for a number of their cuts, her other-worldly wails are the sound that almost never was.
Below, my short audio interview with Sidney Barnes of Rotary Connection (pictured far right), on how Minnie Riperton got the strength to embrace her own voice in the days when sopranos weren’t considered soulful.
As part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, this Saturday meet Tim & Tom… a “Salt & Pepper” comedy team born in the hotbed of sixties Chicago…
Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen met for the first time in tumultuous 1968 Chicago. As the heady promise of the sixties sagged under the weight of widespread violence, rioting, and racial unrest, two young men – one black and one white – took to stages across the nation to help Americans confront their racial divide: by laughing
“While the country was wracked by the civil rights movement, a sexual revolution, and a controversial war, these friends took the stage as the first—and so far, only—black and white comedy team. Together they spent five years touring the country, facing unabashed racism, occasionally violent hecklers, and cheering crowds. Reid went on to star in the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati and create the influential Frank’s Place, and Dreesen spent 30 years in stand-up, including 15 years as Frank Sinatra’s opening act. The duo returns to the stage to tell their stories and reflect on a lifetime of unique experiences. Ron Rapoport moderates.”
Where & When:
DuSable Museum of African American History
740 East 56th Place
Chicago, IL 60637
Saturday, October 17th 2pm-3:00pm
Educators & Students: FREE
The book entitled Tim & Tom: An American Comedy
in Black & White is published by University of Chicago Press.
“Evil”. A fundamental Howlin Wolf record, created here in Chicago, back in the 1950s. A platter of standard electrified Delta Blues. Now, add Marshall Chess (son of Chess Records’ Leonard Chess), the turbulent and psychedelic 1960s, and some of the best jazz, funk, and soul studio players in the city. Remake and enjoy.
Well that’s not exactly true. Howlin Wolf (above) didn’t like the remake. Actually, the first album of such remakes, released on Chess Records’ Cadet Concept label was called:
‘This is Howlin’ Wolf’s
He doesn’t like it.
He didn’t like his electric
guitar at first either.’
The album, the brainchild of Marshall Chess, was a product of the times. In the sixties, white rock groups from America and the UK were gangstering Chicago Blues records. They remade them nearly word for word and listed themselves as artists, thus robbing originators like Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters out of royalties. Chess decided to re-record the artists performing their own compositions in a then-contemporary psychedelic blues style. The albums were panned by purist critics, the same critics that called white psychedelic blues artists like Cream “visionary”.
But, I like it. And I hope you do, too. For info on Muddy Waters’ psychedelic blues remakes, click here.
The late sixties in Chicago was a wild time. The Democratic National Convention and the Riots in 1968 labeled us as unruly, Serial Killer Richard Speckin 1966 labeled us as unsafe, and Martin Luther King, Jr., (marching in North Lawndale for equal housing in 1966), labeled us as a place that “The people of Mississippi ought to come to….to learn how to hate”. And yet we created such sweet music…
Roaring blues, sophisticated jazz, gritty garage rock, smoothed out vocal pop, and shimmering soul (among other genres) all “jus grew” here. Chess Records (based near 22nd and Michigan) was, in fact, the epicenter of the Electrified Delta Blues that changed the sound of popular American music FOREVER. That was the music that served as rock-and-roll’s bassinet. So it was no surprise that Chess Records, nearing the end of the 1960s and reinvigorated with fresh young talent (producer/arranger Charles Stepney, drummer Morris Jennings, and guitarist Phil Upchurch among them), decided to have their living legend artists (i.e. Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf) re-record their groundbreaking 1950s work in an updated funky psychedelic blues style.
White psychedelic rock artists had been ripping off their artists’ work for years. Now they were, in effect, reworking their own art. Muddy and Wolf weren’t feeling it. Critics of the day panned the works. Yet, today, the albums born out of this time (including “Electric Mud”) have an almost cultish following. Produced by Marshall Chess and the legendary Gene Barge, this body of work is just another example of good old Chicago invention….. For a sample of Howlin Wolf’s psychedelic blues tryst, click here.
Drummer Morris Jennings discusses Muddy Waters’ album “Electric Mud” with Ethnologist Jeff Thomas.