In this installment of Reclaimed Soul (sort of the radio version of this blog), check out host Ayana Contreras’ interview with Reggie Torian of The Impressions (that’s him sitting on the bumper of that antique Rolls Royce). He’s been a part of Chicago’s own Impressions (“Keep on Pushin”, “Gypsy Woman”, etc.) for 40 years. And he’s got a lot to say. He talks about the group, Curtom Records, and more. We also hear some of the music he helped to create.
The Impressions counted Curtis Mayfield as both member and principle songwriter during the 1960s and early 1970s before he went solo. Curtom Records was Curtis Mayfield’s Chicago-based record label that was home to the Impressions for nearly a decade. It was also the one-time label of The Five Stairsteps, The Natural Four, Leroy Hutson, The Jones Girls, Linda Clifford, Rasputin’s Stash, Baby Huey and the Babysitters, The Staple Singers, and more.
Catch Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 89.5fm (NWI) and 91.1fm (CHI)
The Emotions were not the only sister group to come out of Chicago. It was all in the family for Kitty and the Haywoods, as well (although they actually consisted of three sisters and a niece). Before Kitty and the Haywoods’ self-titled debut album, Kitty had a long recording history as a background vocalist for such acts as Curtis Mayfield and Terry Callier. She was also a member of The New Rotary Connection (along with Shirley Wahls) after Minnie Riperton departed from Rotary Connection.
1974, Kitty and the Haywoods recorded a single as Kitty Haywood & the Haywood Singers called “Big Black Cloud”. It was produced and arranged by Charles Stepney (who was the creative force behind Rotary Connection). Kitty had also previously released a solo record on the Weis label.
In 1976, the sisters sang back up for Aretha Franklin on the “Sparkle” soundtrack, which was written and produced by Curtis Mayfield. Before that, they recorded quite a few jingles in town.
The album Kitty and the Haywoods (1977) was produced by Mercury Records label mates The Ohio Players, and it sounds like a gumbo of the Ohio Players and Labelle at their silver-lame-wearing best.
What I appreciate most about Kitty and the Haywoods is that they were quite literally part of the backbone of the Chicago Recording scene. Too many background vocalists faded away into the shadows, remaining anonymous. But these ladies were able to shine. Jive on!
This weekend at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, I caught a documentary about Death, a 1970s all-black proto-punk band out of Detroit. The documentary, titled “A Band Called Death” chronicled the group’s forming, brush with success, and descent into obscurity. The master tapes of their sole album, recorded under Don Davis’ Groovesville productions languished in an attic for over thirty years. That is until a perfect storm of record collectors resurrected the work, resulting in a New York Times article, a reissue, and a tour.
It was interesting that one refrain in particular was repeated throughout the documentary:
black people in Detroit just weren’t doing rock.
Sure, it wasn’t the norm; but I think that the idea that black people weren’t doing rock is an over-generalization. I would argue that early Funkadelic (especially the album “Maggot Brain“) is as much Rock as it is Funk. The wailing guitars melded seamlessly with gospel-tinged organs and sizzling drums into something quite some distance from Motown. Oh yes, and Eddie Hazel is a totally under-appreciated face-melting guitarist.
Besides, it’s worth noting that most classic “rock” idioms come from some sort of “black” music (from the earliest Rock and Roll to the Blues).
The other refrain heard in the documentary “A Band Called Death” was that the name “Death” was a huge stumbling block in the way of their success.
Interestingly, an all-black rock group called Black Merda came out of Detroit and recorded an album here in Chicago for Chess Records in 1970. They worked with another Detroit-based rock artist called Fugi (who also released some singles on Chess). It was by no accident that these folks found their way to Chess.
By 1969, Chess had released some unbelievable psychedelic Blues records featuring the label’s biggest stars, Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf. The backing bands were, for the most part, black (featuring Chicago session artists Morris Jennings, Pete Cosey, and more).
Below is a picture of Anthony Hawkins of Black Merda (with “Mary”) circa 1969. They are proudly holding copies of the two psychedelic blues records by Muddy Waters: After the Rain (1969) and Electric Mud (1968). More on those albums can be found here.
Black Merda’s album was released; but didn’t sell many copies. But, I’d credit their obscurity to the subsequent sale and implosion of Chess Records, rather than their death-related name.
Many Chicagoans know Merri Dee as a personality on WGN-TV; but her roots on Chicago Radio are undeniable. She hosted a popular program in the late 60s and early 70s on WBEE (a station out of Harvey). The above ad for her show, “The Merri Dee Magic Sound” ran in the Woodlawn Booster back in 1970.
About a year after this ad was published, A stalker shot Ms. Dee multiple times and left her for dead. She ultimately recovered, and went on to spend nearly 4 decades at WGN.
Merri Dee is an amazing woman who has overcome the odds (including abuse and attempted murder) to be a beacon of light, a trailblazer, and a role model for women of color… especially those (like me) who work in media here in Chicago.
Ms. Dee will be the featured guest on Vocalo‘s Barber Shop Show (which airs live from Carter’s Barber Shop in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood). She will talk about her life, and her newly published memoir, titled “Merri Dee, Life Lessons on Faith, Forgiveness & Grace”.
The Barber Shop Show is hosted by WBEZ’s Richard Steele, and streams on http://vocalo.org Fridays at Noon. On-air, Chicago listeners can tune into 89.5fm or 90.7fm. Tune in tomorrow (June 28th) at Noon for her riveting story.
UPDATE: In case you missed the show, you can hear the archived version here:
I will be hosting a film screening of 1976’s Monkey Hustle at the Black Cinema House on Sunday, June 9th at 6pm. We will watch the film (which was shot mere blocks from where we’ll be watching it), and then discuss it.
Monkey Hustle – hosted by Ayana Contreras
Black Cinema House 6901 S. Dorchester Ave., Chicago
Sunday, June 9th at 6pm
Seating is limited, so please RSVP by emailing email@example.com to reserve your seats.
For more on the film, see my review below.
Monkey Hustle is a black film shot in Chicago in the 1970s (a rarity, in that regard), around the same time as Cooley High. Mainly shot around 63rd Street, East of the Dan Ryan (the Woodlawn Neighborhood), and various West Side locations, the city figures prominently in the overall vibe of the film. Starring in Monkey Hustle are (among others): Yaphet Kotto as a small-time hustler/love interest of the lovely Rosalind Cash, and a very young Debbi Morgan as Cash’s daughter.
Cash runs the local teenage hangout. As the neighborhood hero/big-time hustler, we have Rudy Ray Moore (who is also Cash’s alternate love interest). The other major character is Win, Debbi Morgan’s love interest who, despite showing promise for bigger things, dips deeper and deeper into the “Monkey Hustle” with Kotto.
The overlying plot is fairly pointed: The city government is pushing ahead on plans to construct an expressway on land currently occupied by the neighborhood (which was actually happening in real-life Chicago… remember the plans for that “Crosstown Expressway“?). Ultimately, the set-up becomes ‘the hustle must go on to save the community (by any means necessary)’. Overall, a message movie with too many competing angles. But fun for the shots of Chicago (and the girl fight).
This Sunday, a film screening called Black Radical Imagination will happen at the Black Cinema House in Chicago’s Woodlawn community. Black Radical Imagination stemmed from a series of discussions around the boundaries and limitations that are historically given to people of color. Specifically, in the film industry these restrictions are often digested and kept to propel a vicious cycle of negative identification. Black Radical Imagination invokes a futurist aesthetic where artists identify themselves and reclaim their own unique stories. Black Radical Imagination is curated by Erin Christovale and Amir George.
Sunday, May 19 at 6pm
Black Cinema House
6901 S. Dorchester Ave. Seating is limited, so please RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your seats.
Reclaimed Soul host Ayana Contreras interviewed one of the filmmakers, Christina De Middel (De Middel also took the stunning photo above).
In 1964, still living the dream of their recently gained independence, Zambia started a space program that would put the first African on the moon, catching up with the USA and the Soviet Union in the space race. That was the true story that inspired De Middel’s short film and photography series, both titled “Afronauts”.
We will hear their discussion on tonight’s episode of Reclaimed Soul, plus a pulsating rhythmic gumbo of futuristic African music from the 1970s & 1980s, and plenty of good old fashioned soul (all spun on wax).
Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org 89.5fm (NW Indy) and 90.7fm (CHI)
In this audio piece, I eavesdrop on rehearsals for Opera-matic’s very cool New Moon on the Lagoon, an “evening lullaby parade”, featuring a 15 foot tall giant moon that will be lit up from within by projections of facial expressions.
This piece originally aired on Reclaimed Soul on Vocalo. Reclaimed Soul features music spun on original vinyl records, and stories of people making our world better (artistically, economically, etc) with old materials.
You can tune in to Reclaimed Soul live at 8pm CST on vocalo.org, 89.5fm (NWI/CHI) and 90.7fm (CHI)
A mix of music featuring all local Chicago Soul from the Brunswick Label. The label was originally from New York; but moved most of its operations to 17th and Michigan on Chicago’s Record Row in the mid 1960s. From there, producer Carl Davis steered an all star cast of local talent, like Barbara Acklin (above).
This podcast features the music, and an interview with some of the creative people behind the music.
This podcast, like all good B-Sides, features some of the trippier cuts from the Brunswick Catalogue.
On this installment of Reclaimed Soul (my radio show), we’re be graced by Chicago vocalist Otis Clay. We listen to some favorite deep records from his 50+ year career that spans Gospel, Soul, and Blues.
We also hear about the father figures in Otis Clay’s career, and about why he decided to start his own record label. He even talks about how it felt to find out that he’s “big in Japan” (among other places).
Plus, we’ll sample his newest album, “Truth Is” which was produced and arranged by Chicago Soul heavyweight Tom Tom Washington (Tom Tom also contributed to this interview).
Saturday February 16th at 8pm, join local Chicago Jazz combo The David Boykin Trio (Boykin on sax, Alex Wing on bass, and James Woodley on drums) at the new Washington Park Arts Incubator. They will be playing work from the new album “Live at the Dorchester Projects”. I (also known as DJ Ayana Contreras) will also be spinning.
One of the greatest albums so far from mighty Chicago reedman David Boykin – and easily a set that lives up to the rich legacy of avant jazz in the Windy City! There’s a depth to the record that comes through right from the very first note – a sense of history and feeling that shows just how much Boykin’s developed as a player over the past decade or so – a tenorist with a done that’s right up there with Archie Shepp or David Murray at their creative best – really stretching out on some wonderful solos that never fail to dim in imagination or new ideas.
The event is a part of the “Off the Record Series”, through the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, and Elastic Arts. The year-long series highlights new works by local musicians released on vinyl.
Below, my interview with David about the new record, and about the scene in Chicago today. This originally aired on my radio program, Reclaimed Soul. Reclaimed Soul airs on 89.5fm in Chicago, and streams on vocalo.org everywhere Thursday Nights at 8pm CST. Jive on!
David Boykin Trio: Live at Dorchester Projects Listening/Album Release Party