• 0 The Fall and Rise of R&B Legend Ruth Brown

    written by Paul de Barros (Seattle Times jazz critic)... ---------- Few popular music stars survive more than one trend. Against relentless odds, and with more bad luck than any one person deserves, Ruth Brown has managed to do just that. Known as "the girl with the tear in her voice," Brown virtually defined female R&B singing in the '50s, with sexy, fun hits for Atlantic Records like "Teardrops From My Eyes," "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean" and "5-10-15 Hours." But after R&B was re-marketed to white teenagers as "rock 'n' roll," Brown couldn't raise a dime. For nearly two decades, she worked as a domestic and a school-bus driver. Then, in 1977, the comedian Redd Foxx offered her walk-on parts on his TV show, "Sanford and Son," and a new theatrical talent was born. In 1989, Brown won a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway show "Black and Blue." (She also won a Grammy that year for her album "Blues On Broadway.") Along the way, she starred in Allen Toussaint's Off-Broadway gem, "Staggerlee" and played the white-wigged Motormouth Maybelle in the John Waters' film "Hairspray." Reached by telephone earlier this week at her home in Las Vegas, Brown was reading the script for the new John Sayles movie, "The Honeydripper," in which she'll play the part of a blues singer named Bertha. "I'm excited," she said in a voice still rich and vibrant, though congested from a recent hospital stay for fluid in her lungs. "Bertha has been singing the blues many, many, many years and she knows the history. Unfortunately, my character dies in the end of the story, but it's all right - I've got five songs in there." Brown is also proud of her new Hummer commercial, featuring the Bobby Darin classic "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'. " Brown's career is unusual, in that she jumped the subtle but real class barrier between R&B and jazz. "There was a time they didn't want to say they knew Ruth Brown because she was an R&B singer," said the 78-year-old survivor. "They didn't respect you at all. Dinah [Washington] tried to insult me because of that." The great Billie Holiday, after hearing Brown imitate her at Cafe Society, "walked into the dressing room and read me out good," said Brown. "She said, 'You're pretty good, but there's only one Lady Day, and I'm it. If you want to steal my stuff, do it your own way.' " That's exactly what Brown's been doing all these years. The delicious, tongue-in-cheek twinkle of those '50s R&B songs matured into the sophisticated, theatrical sass of her "Black and Blue" showstopper, "If I Can't Sell It (I'm Going to Sit On It)." Brown has been beset by mishaps during her long career. Raised in Portsmouth, Virginia,(where a street and a new blues festival were named for her this year), Brown got into a severe car accident on the way to her first recording session in New York. After recovering from knee surgery, she had a stroke in 2000. Brown made a triumphant comeback in 2003, at Bumbershoot as well as an extended appearance at the Manhattan supper club Le Jazz Au Bar. Brown sings seated on her "throne" now, but there's no dearth of spirit coming from that voice. She does the old hits but also tunes from "Black and Blue" and from her excellent 1999 album, "A Good Day for the Blues" (Bullseye). "If I can't sell it, I'm going to sit down on it," she said, with a laugh. "Life turns around, and the truth comes down. It's amazing how many times I sang that song on Broadway. Now I have to sit down, anyway." Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Moments of Harmony for Ray, Goodman, & Brown

    Ray, Goodman, & Brown, formerly known as The Moments, recorded many classic R&B hits. 1969's "Love on a Two Way Street" was a #1 chart topper. In 1981, Stacy Lattisaw served up the song with youthful emotion to brand new audiences. Other memorable Moments hits include: "Look at Me I'm In Love" "With You" "Happy Anniversary" "If I Didn't Care" "Not on the Outside but Inside Strong" "Girls" (with The Whatnauts) The Moments changed their name in 1978 to Ray, Goodman, & Brown. Their 1979 tribute honoring the divine "Special Lady" was a #1 R&B, and #5 pop hit. Billy Brown sang lead on "Love on a Two Way Street," "Sunday," "Lovely Way She Loves," "Lucky Me," "I Do," "Inside of You," and "All I Have." Before The Moments, Billy was with a group called the Broadways. Al Goodman started his career with the Corvettes and the Vipers. After joining the Moments, Al produced and wrote songs for the future Ray, Goodman, and Brown. He's done the same for other artists. "Look At Me I'm In Love," "Sexy Mama," "Inside Of You," and "Happy Anniversary," are a few of the songs Al Goodman wrote and produced. Harry Ray was with the group for 25 years, except for a brief period in 1982 when he pursued a solo career. Kevin Owens temporarily replaced Ray. Owens would permanently join "Ray, Goodman, & Brown" after Ray's untimely passing. Today, Al Goodman and Billy Brown own the name "Ray, Goodman, & Brown." They continue the tradition of charming crowds with sweet n' soulful vocal harmonies. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Rick James Movie is Super Freaky Part Three

    The escapades of Rick James are legendary. His daughter Ty is the co-producer of a new movie about Rick's life. See the Rick James Movie is Super Freaky Part One, in addition to the Rick James Movie is Super Freaky Part Two. When four limousines rolled into the old JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, PA USA in the early 1980's, Rick James, one of the stars of the show, stepped out of a maroon stretch ride along side of three black limos that held his band. I remembered this show pretty well, because it was a fast one. Rick was, let's say, in party overdrive mode. When his quick set ended, he, his band, and entourage slipped back into their waiting limousines, to be whisked away out of the huge stadium, making a b-line to the land of punk funk superstars. Are you ready for the final chapter in the history of Rick James? Let's continue with the official Rick James story... ---------- "Swaggering decadence had been the essence of his image for so long that he wondered whether the public would be ready -- or, more important, willing -- to accept a Rick James whose concept of touchy-feely no longer had anything to do with an orgy. Ultimately, James decided not to ask them to. "I said, 'Fuck this, let's get back to the roots,' " he recalls, "and I wrote some new songs." instead of looking ahead, Urban Rapsody takes a long look back. James has attempted a concept album, an audio movie of his life; he compares the recording process to "recreating Frankenstein." And the record is something of a monster -- a sprawling, 70-minute, 15-track catharsis. If the CD has a problem, it is the obviousness of its intent, which is to appeal to the broadest audience possible. James enlisted a wide assortment of stars, from hip-hoppers (Snoop Doggy Dogg, Neb Love, Rappin' 4-Tay) to rhythm and blues legends (Bobby Womack, Charlie Wilson) to another of his proteges (Joanne "JoJo" McDuffie, of the Mary Jane Girls) to help out. Occasionally, the music sounds as though James has traveled to his collaborators' ground instead of staking out his own. The sly spelling of the album's title, Urban Rapsody, also carries the scent of concession, given the vehemence with which James used to rail against rappers. "That was just me going through an artistic ego trip," he says now. "I didn't want rappers touching my shit, but a lot of us older musicians felt that way then. I wanted to sue them. But then I saw what kind of money I was making from Hammer and LL Cool J and Will Smith and on and on with the people sampling Rick James music. And I said, 'Never mind.' " But if James's rap-and-funk approach now sometimes seems derivative, it's worth remembering that he's one of the innovators from whom it was derived. Certainly there is no doubting his technical mastery of the various styles he showcases on Urban Rapsody. His singing has acquired a honeyed richness, and his sincerity here can be downright disarming. Snoop Doggy Dogg and Charlie Wilson contribute star quality to "Players Way," the single that was released to radio, but the CD has moments with far more magic. The title track, an ode to the inner city, plays Rappin' 4-Tay's smooth staccato against James's bruising crooning, both vocals folding seamlessly into a tangy backing of warm horns and funky bass. Neb Love, of the struggling rap duo Da Five Footaz, may get her big break with her hauntingly seductive performances on "It's Time" and "Favorite Flava." There's also no denying the earnestness of "Mama's Eyes," a painful recollection of James's mother, who died of cancer while he was in prison. Throughout, the underlying tone of Urban Rapsody is one of uncertainty, both musically and lyrically, and that is its most personal and poignant statement: This is Rick James, circa 1997, vulnerable and bravely struggling for direction and meaning. "I have to establish myself again, but I have to be careful. I don't want to lose the fans I had, and I want to attract new fans, but I don't want to lose my musical integrity either," he says. "I don't want to make the same mistakes I made before, but I don't want to blow people away with something foreign or alien to what they expect. I have to find a happy medium. The album is out, yeah, but I'm still in search of that happy medium." A nightmare of hassles behind him, he's both relieved and relaxed, a bright and quick-witted student of American popular music, the history of which he has helped shape." ---------- Rick James Forever was released in 2005, a year after the king of punk funk died of a heart attack. Always the innovator, Rick was one of the first artists to jump on board the online radio craze back in 2000 and 2001. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to his music stream, "Rick James Radio," on live365, featuring non-stop back-to-back Rick James tracks. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Rick James Movie is Super Freaky Part Two

    Rick James is the subject of a new biography movie co-produced by his daughter Ty. See part one of our three part series, the "Rick James Movie is Super Freaky." We pick up where we left off in the saga of Rick James. It's 1979. Let's continue with the official Rick James story... ---------- "Bustin' Out Of L Seven was his next album and sent him out on his first US tour. Other artists that accompanied him on his "Fire It Up" tour were the Mary Jane Girls (a group that he created), and a young singer named Prince. It was a big break for Prince and the two artists continued to be compared for a long time (something that both got sick of rapidly). Partly due to Rick James' wildly extroverted style of performance, the tour was a great success and drew not only large enthusiastic audiences, but also wide media attention. Following Garden Of Love, an uncharacteristic ballad album, Rick James released his fifth album, Street Songs. Probably Rick James' definitive album, Street Songs achieved double-platinum status, stayed in the Top 100 Album chart for 54 weeks, and was nominated for a Grammy Award. Rick James also received a Grammy nomination for the song "Super Freak." When asked about "Super Freak," Rick James explained, "'Super Freak' came about after Street Songs was complete. I was listening to the tracks, just riffing on my bass, when I hit on this punky-funky sounding line. Reminded me of how punkers look funny when they try to dance. I heard it as a goof and never dreamed it'd take off. The lyrics were silly. The line about 'she's the kind of girl you don't take home to mother' was jive. I could take any girl home to mother. Anyway, the song came together, I had the Temps singing behind me, and next thing I know it's a smash." Although Rick James released seven more albums (six of which were released by Motown) and had several more hits on the charts, none have equaled the popularity that Street Songs received. In 1983 "Cold Blooded" hit #1 on the US R&B charts, and later that year Rick James collaborated with Smokey Robinson on a song: "Ebony Eyes." The Rick James' legacy doesn't only live on through his songs. He created and nurtured young artists and bands including the Mary Jane Girls, Teena Marie, and Eddie Murphy. Rick James broke many cultural taboos by flaunting his extravagant lifestyle. As an icon of drug use and eroticism, Rick James went further than anyone had gone before. But before long, his lifestyle started to catch up with him. "During the Throwin' Down tour I went to see Dizzy Gillespie at the Blue Note in New York. Man, I loved Dizzy. He was a guru, a beautiful man filled with the spirit of compassion, the father I never had. Diz was never judgmental. He used to say I was too serious and warned me not to look at life so black and white. He saw I was wild. 'Rick,' he said, 'you remind me of Bird. Boy, you better slow down.' But even Dizzy, for all his wisdom, couldn't change my reckless ways." James's flamboyant lifestyle took its toll on his health and he was hospitalized several times between 1979 and 1984. He had major hits in 1984 and 1985 with the more relaxed '17' and 'The Glow'. The latter also provided the title for a highly acclaimed album, which reflected James's decision to abandon drugs. He cancelled plans to star in an autobiographical film called The Spice Of Life in the wake of the overwhelming commercial impact of Prince's Purple Rain. After releasing The Flag in 1986, James ran into serious conflict with Motown. James left the label, signing to Reprise Records, where he immediately achieved a soul number 1 with 'Loosey's Rap', a collaboration with Roxanne Shante. Now "clean and loving it," James returned to the music scene with Urban Rapsody, his first new album since 1988's Wonderful. "I thought about doing an acoustic album, to pour out my heart, to get all self-indulgent," he says. "But that would have been too soul-searching. It might have been a downer." After bedding by his count "thousands" of women, James, 50, settled down with dancer Tanya Hijazi, 27 (whom he married in December 1997 after an 11-year relationship), and their 5-year-old son, Tazman. "I'm too old to do crazy things anymore," says James. "Before, I'd just smoke dope and have sex. I never knew if it was day or night. Now I go to bed at 11 and get up at 7. I don't have aluminum foil on my windows anymore." ---------- To be continued in the final segment, Rick James Movie is Super Freaky part three, coming next time. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Rick James Movie is Super Freaky Part One

    Is "party all the time" the main theme of a new biographical movie about the late funk master Rick James? Rick's daughter Ty is the co-producer of the project. Hollywood insiders are buzzing that the Rick James story reveals all about wild all-night parties with Linda Blair, Elisabeth Shue, Tatum O'Neal, and Eddie Murphy. We lost Rick James in August, 2004 when he passed away of natural causes. The biopic won't hit the silver screen for some time, so let's revisit "punk funk," and look at the official Rick James story... ---------- "Rick James entered the world as James Ambrose Johnson Jr. on February 1, 1948 in Buffalo, N.Y., the third oldest child in a family of eight. "It was my mother who raised us," he said. "She was a small elegant woman of great dignity and strength. She always had two jobs. Sometimes she worked as a maid, but her main income came from running numbers for the Italian mob. She raised us as strict Catholics." An early 80s icon rebelling against the establishment, Rick James started early by joining the navy at age fifteen and going AWOL soon after. He fled to Canada, and it was there, in Toronto, that he founded his first group, the Mynah Birds with future Buffalo Springfield members Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, and Goldie McJohn (who later joined Steppenwolf). It was at this point that he became known as Rick James. As the nephew of the Temptations' Melvin Franklin, Rick James was no stranger to Motown, and he and his band were signed to the label in the mid-sixties. Although the group recorded a couple of tracks, nothing was ever released. Probably because Rick James (who had now relocated to Detroit) was in trouble with the military, and because the rest of the band moved to Los Angeles. Not easily deterred, Rick went to London where he formed the blues band "The Main Line." He commuted between London and North America (where he was a staff songwriter for Motown in the late sixties) for the next seven years. In 1977 he finally returned to the US completely, forming a band (the Stone City Band) with which he experimented at mixing rock and funk - creating "funk 'n' roll." "I'm into rock," Rick James said. "I'm trying to change the root of funk, trying to make it more progressive, more melodic, and more lyrically structured...? ?More honest, as opposed to putting riffs together, saying, 'Get up and get down. I feel alright. Oomph! Good God! Get up and boogie' and all that redundant bull." When he approached Berry Gordy in 1978, he had an entire record in hand. Impressed by his tapes, Berry Gordy once again signed Rick James to Motown - this time to the Gordy subsidiary. The album was released later that year as Come Get It and two of its songs immediately hit the charts. "You and I" went gold in September and "Mary Jane," a barely-disguised hymn to marijuana hit US R&B #3 in October." ---------- To be continued in Rick James Movie is Super Freaky part two, coming next time. Previous Post | Next Post

  • 0 Brenda Russell's Class Act

    Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Brenda Russell has had a long and varied career. She sings with the flava of many influences: R&B, jazz, classical, pop, rock, and Latin. A very unique mix indeed. Russell's bag of talent can be compared favorably to Alicia Keys' portfolio of abilities. Alicia reminds me very much of a young Brenda Russell. On both their resumes: Excellent piano playing Well written emotional lyrics Accomplished live performance Memorable musical melodies reflecting contemporary rhythmic styles Brenda's first hit was the ballad "So Good So Right," in 1979. The echo of her signature piano in that song, refined in the haunting melody of 1988's "Piano In The Dark," are both unforgettable. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Brenda grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She started playing piano while singing as a teenager performing in the Canadian production of the rock musical "Hair" in Toronto. Russell got her first big record deal after relocating to Los Angeles. Brenda says "I never write songs that are without hope. People have to be inspired to another level." Brenda Russell is a real class act. Previous Post | Next Post

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