Heart with Soul: How Black Musicians Took Ownership of their Musical Roots, and Spread its Appeal to a Worldwide Audience: Part 4-Stax Records and Otis Redding

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]

Stax Records, originally named Satellite Records, was founded in Memphis Tennessee in 1957. Satellite’s early releases were of the country and rockabilly genre. Jim Stewart, its founder, was a white country fiddle player at the time.

Satellite entered the rhythm and blues (r&b) market in 1959. Their first r&b  release was the Veltones’ song “Fool in Love.” At the same time, Stewart met with Memphis disc jockey and r&b singer Rufus Thomas. Thomas and his daughter recorded a song in 1961 entitled, “Cause I Love You.” It became a big regional hit, and was picked up for national distribution by Atlantic Records.

1961 was also the year when Satellite Records changed their name to Stax Records. This was a result of a complaint filed by another company by the same name. Stax was a combination of the names of the two owners, Jim Stewart and his sister, Estelle Axton.

By 1962, Stax had transformed itself from a regional label into a national one, on par with Motown and Atlantic Records. Black musicians who were employed there felt that they were treated as equals, and had the freedom to be creative.

Unlike Motown, Stax was not formed as a black music label. Jim Stewart was intent on getting the best talent he could find, whether the musicians were black or white. Stax’s house band, Booker T. and the MG’s, was integrated.

Stax had an onsite record store to test consumer reaction to it, immediately after one was released. The onsite store was run by Estelle Axton.

Otis Redding and Stax, following on the heels of Motown’s success in London in 1965, embarked on a tour of London in 1966. The size of the crowds seeing him perform were varied. However the highlight of this tour was a performance on a popular British TV show,  Ready, Steady, Go! As Mark Ribowsky put it in his book, Dreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul, “the performance came as a revelation to many Brits who had never heard, much less seem, him, but now knew that he was unbelievably cool.”

However it was Redding’s appearance at the Summer of Love Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 that elevated his popularity among white audiences. This was a gamble, to find out if a southern soul singer could find success in an audience of white rock and roll music fans.

The results of that first came after Melody Maker, a notable music publication at the time, noted that Otis had replaced Elvis Presley as the world’s top male vocalist. A booked tour of the state of California brought him to many nightclubs. Renting a manager’s houseboat near San Francisco, he came up with his most widely noted song, Sitting at the Dock of the Bay.

Sadly, Redding died long before his career got a chance to take off. He was killed in a plane crash in that same year, 1967, at the age of twenty-six.

Below is a video of Redding performing a cover of the Rolling Stone’s song, Satisfaction. It was performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, which was mentioned above.

 

 

Heart with Soul: How Black Musicians Took Ownership of their Musical Roots, and Spread its Appeal to a Worldwide Audience: Part 3: Motown, The World, and the Legacy

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]

Motown has grown tremendously since 1959. They made their entry into the international market in 1964, when Mary Wells’ scored a hit in Britain with the release of My Guy. The Tamli-Motown Revue, consisting of performers Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandelles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, took their show to London in 1965. British singer Dusty Springfield introduced them on a televised display of their performance. Their reception was recognized by the Beatles, who covered a few Motown songs on their second album, With the Beatles.

Motown’s influence also reached the former Soviet Union. A band named Black Russian was comprised of three Russian citizens who immigrated to the United States in 1976 to seek political and musical freedom. They were signed by Motown president Berry Gordy in 1978. Black Russian was one of the few white acts that became part of this predominately black record company that promoted predominately black musicians. The group’s genre was a mix of rhythm and blues, soft rock, and pop. Two of their singles, Leave me Now, and Mystified, received attention and positive critical feedback.

A record company that primarily promoted black musicians performing soul music, Motown over the years branched out with subsidiaries into genres such as alternative,  hip hop/rap, jazz and rock.  Michael Eric Dyson, author of  Mercy, Mercy, Me: The Art, Love and Demons of Marvin Gaye summed up Motown’s legacy, “Motown shaped the musical tastes of millions of Americans with its bright melodies, upbeat lyrics, and crossover ambitions. It wanted to sell the beauty and brilliance of the black voice to white America. Motown broke down many racial barriers with its massive artistic achievements, even as it embodied both the triumphs and troubles of the American dream and capitalism.”

Below are videos of the Motown performers Martha and the Vandelles in London in 1965, as well as a recording of one of Black Russian’s recorded songs, Leave me Now.

 

 

 

Heart with Soul: How Black Musicians Took Ownership of their Musical Roots, and Spread its Appeal to a Worldwide Audience: Part 2: Motown, Marvin, and the Jackson 5

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]

Marvin Gaye, popularly known as the “Prince of Soul”, was raised in a housing project in Washington, DC. While in high school, he formed a singing group with some friends by the name of The Moonglows.

By the time Gaye had signed with Motown in 1960, the Moonglows had broken up. However it was not until 1971 with the release of the song, What’s Going On, did he gain prominence. It was inspired by an act of police brutality at an anti-Vietnam War rally in Berkeley, California. Living up to his reputation as the Prince of Soul, he demonstrated his ability to take this song and sing it in a way that came across in an emotionally powerful way to both black and white listeners. One line of the lyrics was “war is not the answer.” This song had sold 100,000 records in one day. What’s Going On made it to number two on the pop music charts, and number one on the rhythm and blues charts.

Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) was another single released on the same album. Its theme was a concern for the environment, such as the disappearance of blue skies, overcrowded land, and the poisoning of the air. It was Gaye’s second million seller. He received two Grammy Award nominations and several NAACP Image Awards, and Rolling Stone’s magazine’s album of the year.

The Jackson 5, five brothers including Michael Jackson, was formed in 1964. They were discovered in 1967, after performances at noted music theatres in Chicago and New York. Gladys Knight of the famed Gladys Knight and the Pips saw the Jackson 5 performance in New York, and sent a tape of it to Motown Records. Motown signed the group in 1969.

Their first four single songs, I Want you Back, ABC, The Love you Save, and I’ll be There, reached number one on the top 100 charts. As a result, the Jackson 5’s appeal toward youth became Motown’s main marketing focus. Many products such as the J5 heart logo, a Saturday morning TV cartoon series, and a teenager publication Right On, began in 1971 and focused on each of the brothers.

Motown launched Michael Jackson’s solo career in 1971 in order to increase sales. Got it be There and Ben were two of his first songs that reached the Top 40.

The rise of the Jackson 5 in the 1960’s and 1970’s coincided with the rise of another group of brothers who were white, The Osmonds. According to the father of the Jackson 5, The Osmonds were considered to be a musical inspiration, and instructed his sons to study them carefully.

Below you’ll find a YouTube video of Marvin Gaye’s performance of What’s Going On, and a video of an early Jackson 5 song I Want you Back. Michael Jackson appears in his early innocence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Post-Childhood Journey Into Music: Part 4: Listening to You, I Get Your Music (Earthshine)

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]

An earlier post, dated February 11, 2012, has a similar title. Its subject is about how music is contained inside each individual’s soul. The title of that post is Listening to You, I Get the Music, and it does happen to be a song on the Tommy album. Parts 1 through 3 have been about my journey through music. This part is about others’ journeys, artists who express themselves through music.

The first artist is Neil Peart, songwriter and drummer for the rock band, Rush. His song, Earthshine, comes from a book he wrote, entitled, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. Peart had unexpectedly lost his daughter and wife within a short period of time. He had escaped from these tragedies by first taking a four-month journey on his motorcycle from Canada, where he lives, all the way south to Mexico. Throughout the next two years, until he returned to record a new album with the band, Neil Peart had ceased to identify himself not only as a celebrity in a major rock band, but as someone who became unable to feel, or relate to any form of music.

Ghost Rider is his journal that is emotionally riveting. He keeps referring to his “baby soul”, and how it needed constant comforting and nurturing throughout this challenging time. Fortunately his story has a happy ending, as he meets his new wife, and she bears him a new daughter. Earthshine, the song I mentioned in the beginning, is about the joy he experienced after discovering a new wife, whereupon he rediscovered how blessed he had become.

Some of the lyrics of the song are:

Earthshine

A beacon in the night

I can raise my eyes to

Earthshine

Earthshine

A jewel out of reach

For a dream to rise to

Earthshine

You can access the video below to listen to the entire song:

 

 

 

My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Part 3: I’m Free

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]

The pivotal song in the rock opera, I’m Free, is also pivotal in my own life. Tommy’s mother throws him into the mirror out of exasperation for all the years he never responded to her efforts to communicate with him. The rough equivalent of this for me was when after only two months of knowing my future stepmother and stepsiblings, my father, on Mothers Day, told me that the five of us will become a family. Given the fact that only two months meant that they were still strangers to me, in addition to the inability to gain closure over the loss of my biological mother ten years earlier, it felt as if I were thrown into a mirror, just as Tommy had been.

However as the four months between the day I was told of the marriage, and the day of the wedding had passed, I began to accept the new reality. While my fifteen-year old brother-to-be and I had a lot of tension between us, I adored my five-year old sister-to-be.

The key to my successful transition and integration into a new family was the result of acceptance of the new family by relatives from my biological mother’s family. So instead of feeling like an orphan living in a family of two, my Dad and myself, I was integrated into more than one family. First, my new immediate family of my father, stepmother and stepsiblings. Second, my stepmother’s extended family. Third, my biological mother’s extended family.

However beyond attainment of a normal life and finding peace within myself, I evolved from someone self-absorbed with my own problems, to a person finding empathy with others experiencing problems or challenges in their own lives.

 

 

 

My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Part 2: Christmas, Cousin Kevin, There’s a Doctor

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]

The Christmas scene in Tommy shows him sitting in a circle, but despite being surrounded by friends, is silent and completely withdrawn. This holiday is regarded as being a time of joy and celebration. The same held true for me during my fifth or sixth birthday party. I have a vague memory of crying loudly  after everyone sang Happy Birthday to me. To refer back to Part I, I perceived the inability of adults to help me grieve over the loss of my mother, and find what therapists today call closure, as a continuing cover-up. Since I could not yet comprehend and verbalize how I was feeling, I, like Tommy, became silent and withdrawn. In other words, I could not enjoy the celebration of my birthday without the physical presence of my deceased mother.

During one part of this holiday celebration, we can hear Tommy internally crying, See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me. Something similar was happening to me, with the Heal Me being a question of how my mother will continue to live on in other ways.

The Cousin Kevin scene is about Tommy being bullied by a member of his own family. I was bullied in school by fellow classmates. In addition to being insecure, I was also short in height, both of which made me easy prey with other boys.

The emotional trauma I was experiencing, in addition to bullying in school, resulted in testing that revealed I had a learning disability. This is where the There’s a Doctor scene enters. The doctor in the Tommy movie was one who conducted physical tests on the boy. I have a vivid memory of being physically dragged out of the car by my father when we visited a local psychologist. I recall that I was asked to participate in a few exercises, of its purpose I do not know. I do recall that throughout elementary school, I would be taken out of a class in order to participate in various activities by some sort of special education instructor. I remember feeling that something was wrong with me, such as being “dumb” or “stupid” in some way. It was only the fact that I never had to repeat a grade that gave me assurance I had normal intelligence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Part I: What About the Boy, Amazing Journey

Scan0004

The first scene in Tommy that has a similarity with my own life is entitled, What About the Boy. While Tommy watched his father being killed, my mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack. The chant from Tommy’s mother and her lover to the boy was “you didn’t see it, you didn’t hear it.” My father and other adults were perceived myself, at the age of three, as evasive whenever I asked about my Mom’s death. So to me, her death felt like a cover-up.

The next act, Amazing Journey, is when Tommy shuts down and internalized all his anger. While I internalized much of my own, I was told that I also externalized denial. Pretending that my deceased mother was playing hide-and-seek with me, I would walk around the house, telling her to come out from where she was hiding.

Pete Townshend, the band member who created Tommy, said that when the boy emotionally shut down, he experienced everything as musical vibrations. My own outlet also came from music, by hearing sad love songs on the radio. The one song which I related to more than any other was Carole King’s tune, So Far Away. The lyrics are:

So Far Away

Doesn’t Anybody Stay in One Place Anymore

It Would be so Nice to See Your Face at my Door

But it Doesn’t Help to Know

That You’re So Far Away

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Introduction

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]

The following is a six-part post. The first three are the most personal I have written for this blog. The last three relate to personal stories and challenges of three current musicians.

A previous post entitled, Listening to You, I Get the Music https://dwor2345.wordpress.com/2012/02/ , is about the rock opera that brought The Who to its superstar status. However the main character in this opera, Tommy, and the title of it, has many similarities with my own life.

My biological mother had died when I was three years old. I was an only child at the time. Although the death of any family member is hard for anyone at any age, no adult was able to help me get through what therapists today call a normal grieving period. As a result, I became emotionally traumatized by my mother’s passing. It had impacted my social and educational development.

In short, I was not living what people working in the field of child development would regard as a normal life. It was not until the age of 14, after my father had remarried, and I gained a stepmother, stepbrother and stepsister, did I finally discover what a normal life is supposed to be like.

The story of Tommy is one in which he, too, is an only child who experiences the death of a parent at an early age, becomes emotionally traumatized, but is able to free himself much later in life. However, in addition to attaining a normal life, Tommy tries to help others who are less fortunate. I try to do the same with family members, friends, etc., who are going through tough times in their lives.

For those readers who may be unfamiliar with each act and sequence of Tommy, access the link to the Tommy movie, below. Watching the movie for our purposes is better than listening to the original soundtrack, since the movie conveys needed visual images.

 

Heart with Soul: How Black Musicians Took Ownership of their Musical Roots, and Spread its Appeal to a Worldwide Audience: Part I: Motown, Smokey, and the Supremes

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]

Heart and Soul was the title of a song by Huey Lewis and the News that was released in 1981. Soul music itself, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is “music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm and blues into a form of funky, secular testifying.”

Three notable record companies that have promoted black musicians singing soul music are Motown, Stax, and Atlantic. Since Motown’s mission is the closest to the title of the following three posts, I will discuss it first.

The Motown Record Corporation was formed in Detroit, Michigan in 1959 by Berry Gordy, a Black American songwriter.Motown’s mission was to promote African American artists performing their own music. Prior to Motown, white artists such as Pat Boone and Elvis Presley were performing rhythm and blues songs that were written by Black musicians.

The Motown Sound was taking Black artists performing Black music in a manner that had crossover appeal with White audiences. It used tambourines to accent the back beat, melodic electric bass guitar lines, and call and response singing style that originated in gospel music.

Another strategy for crossover appeal was their artist development program. Musicians were taught that they needed to think, act, walk and talk like royalty. Since a number of them were raised in housing projects, they needed to develop social and dress skills. The Motown Revue were package concert tours that gave musicians who were considered as second-tier acts an opportunity to improve their performance skills. Some of the artists who fell into this category include Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and the Jackson 5.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles was the first successful recording act for Motown. The song Shop Around, released in 1960, became the label’s first million selling hit record during the 1960 Grammy Hall of Fame. Robinson himself later became the vice-president of Motown.

Diana Ross and the Supremes were the first female group from Motown. Growing up in a Detroit housing project, Ross and fellow band members Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson had been recruited while they were still in high school. Berry Gordy signed them in 1961. Their first number one hit, Where Did our Love Go, came in 1964. Gordy, whose goal was to generate an appeal to black and white audiences, made sure that not only had a polished look, but also a sophisticated stage presence in the way they dressed.

Below you will find videos of a documentary history of Motown, original recordings of Smokey Robinson’s Shop Around, and an early performance of Diana Ross and the Supremes’ Where did our Love go.

Culture Wars and Civil Rights: How Another King Left the South and the Nation Feeling All Shook Up: Part 2

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]

Sam Phillips, the man who discovered a truck driver from Memphis, Tennessee named Elvis Presley, began the independent Sun Records in 1950. Phillips allowed black and white amateur musicians to perform. One of the notable African American musicians included B.B. King, the electric Blues guitarist who recently passed away at the age of 89.

Presley first auditioned for Phillips in 1954. But it was not until he sang a song, That’s Alright, Mama, when Phillips became impressed enough to consider this truck driver as one with musical potential. The song itself was written by a black musician named Arthur “Big Boy” Curdup. However when Elvis’ rendition of it was heard on the radio, listeners could not tell if the singer was black or white.

Presley himself grew up in a poor family in Mississippi. The neighborhood his family was living in was  largely African American. Elvis’ first instance of an interest in music came at the age of 18, in 1953, after a successful singing performance in a talent show. He then joined a gospel singing group, where many of these white gospel groups that performed reflected the influence of black spiritual music. Presley listened to regional radio stations that played what was then called rhythm and blues music. B.B. King, mentioned earlier in this post, knew Presley at this time, since they both frequented the venues in Memphis where blues music was played. Elvis would always credit the long tradition of blues in the African American music community had on him.

Rock and Roll music itself is a blend of several genres. It is most directly made up of blues, a musical genre first sung by African slaves, and later developed by Black American musicians as rhythm and blues. Another piece of rock and roll is Gospel, another African American genre that came out of the religious experience of life in the United States.

The white contributed genres to Rock and Roll include Country and Western, and Folk. Country and Western originated in the southern United States. Folk is considered to have been originated in Europe, as well as the United States. Elvis himself was labeled in the Rockabilly category, which was a blend of country music and rhythm and blues.

However it was the rhythm and blues piece of Elvis’ style that created a backlash against him by older generations of southern whites. As Michael Bertrand put it in his book, Race, Rock and Elvis, “much of the southern opposition to rock and roll that would emerge during the mid-1950’s targeted the music as a threat to white southern civilization. Citizens’ Council (a white supremacist organization) spokesman Asa Carter accused the NAACP of infiltrating southern white teenagers with rock and roll music.” A pastor for one congregation in Memphis, after learning that Elvis’ singing style was learned in a white church that drew heavily from it’s black counterpart responded, “the inference that the white Assembly of God congregations borrowed heavily from the negro sects is not only a slur, but it is too stupid for words.”

However this did not stop large numbers of teenage fans from attending his concerts held in southern cities. During one of these shows in Lubblock, Texas, a teenage gang firebombed Elvis’ car. As a result, at the two concerts he performed at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair Dairy Show in 1956, one hundred National Guard troops were on hand to prevent crowd trouble.

Two songs that Elvis sang later during the 1960’s demonstrate how he and his generation of white southerners were starting to change the face of the traditionally segregated South. One of them, entitled, If I Can Dream, included the following lyrics, If I can dream of a better land, where all my brothers and sisters walk hand in hand, tell me why, oh why, oh why, can’t my dream come true. The other song, In the Ghetto, included in a video at the end of this post, is about empathy for the largely black inner-city poor.

As Michael Bertrand, an author cited earlier put it, “struggling with transition, the postwar South represented a place in time where novel possibilities for cultural exchange were unfolding. Transplanted to urban surroundings in larger numbers than ever before, a generation of young southerners found itself disconnected from a rural past and its traditions. Set apart from their parents and elders by the experience of a modern and urban existence, they sought new role models and entertainment vehicles”

Beyond Elvis Presley and his southern agents of change, popular music nationwide created its own change. Widespread acceptance of integration occurred when black and white teenagers started dancing together on the TV show, American Bandstand. Civil Rights leaders cited the role of music in their struggle for equality. According to Julian Bond, “the history of the music is also the history of cultures joining together.” In a 2004 article in Rolling Stone magazine, Bono, the singer for the band U2, described a meeting he had with Civil Rights leaders Coretta Scott King and John Lewis about Elvis’s impact on the nation. As he wrote, “I think the hill they climbed would have been much steeper were it not for the racial inroads black music was making on white pop culture. Elvis was already doing what the civil rights movement was demanding, breaking down barriers.”

The videos below include the uproar and influence Elvis had on white southerners and African American musicians, as well his song In the Ghetto, followed by another rendition by a Black rap musician.