Today Antoine "Fats" Domino Jr. superstar of R&B and Rock n Roll and enduring American icon turns 86! As you hopefully know, #FatsDomino was one of the most influential musicians of the early rock n roll era. Today he's viewed as a rather innocuous figure, however it was nearly 6 decades ago at a Fat Domino San Jose concert in 1956 that the first "rock n roll riot" occurred, sending shock waves of fear through the heart of conservative America.
The incident was described in a 1986 article in the LA Times. Here's what happened when Domino's band stepped out for an intermission, "As the hall quieted, someone near the back of the ballroom threw a beer bottle toward the stage. It crashed harmlessly onto the nearly deserted dance floor. Within a moment another bottle shattered on the floor and then a third. It seemed that a fight involving no more than five or six people was heating up. But others joined in. The overhead lights were hit and exploded, raining glass down onto the floor. Fist fights broke out. Within minutes chaos prevailed. Silvia couldn't believe his eyes. A free-for-all was taking place in his precious dance hall. People were clawing, screaming, kicking, biting, punching and beating at each other. "Boys fought boys and even girls," he remembered years later. "Girls were slugging and scratching at one another."
Of course much of the push back against rock n roll was purely born out of racism. Black musicians like Fats Domino who broke through the walls of musical segregation really did leave an enormous lasting impact on mainstream American cultural. And for that he, like his fellow birthday buddy Johnny Cash, was much more than a musician. He was a FORCE.
My selection of the day comes from Domino's foray into early soul music. It's one of the final 45s he recorded in New Orleans, produced by his long time musical partner Dave Bartholomew. Within a year he would switch record labels and under his new contract agreement, he would be required to record in Nashville with producer Bill Justice, instead of in his home town of New Orleans. His winning formula would be broken, and the hits stopped coming.
But today it's 1962 again and the twist is all the rage. Take a moment to Dance with Mr. Domino!
This weekend I kicked the prep for the upcoming Sugar Town into high gear and getting so excited to celebrate the ladies of classic soul and r&b as we launch into Women's History Month. I've been gathering all kinds of fresh 45s for this event and I can't wait to share them with you!
This will be the 4th edition of the Ladies of Classic Soul version of Sugar Town, but I've been throwing versions of this party since 1996. The record of the day is one of the recordings that's been a go-to for me since the early years. It lives up to it's name as a real scorcher written and performed by Varetta Dillard on this day in 1959.
Varetta was born in Harlem in 1933. She enjoyed moderate success in the mid-1950s, and from the beginning was promoted as a "rock n roll" artist by the legendary DJ Alan Freed (who coined the term "rock n roll"). In fact, Freed included Ms. Dillard in his very first presentation of a rock n roll revue concert in 1952.
Though Varetta's name had largely been missing in the pages of rock 'n' roll and r&b history, today her music is finding a wider audience and a handful of her records are highly sought after by DJs of vintage soul.
Join me at The Spare Room on March 7th to celebrate the music and lives of more ladies of vintage soul and R&B. AND get warmed up for the event by listening to this red hot R&B!
Today the legendary Soul Queen of New Orleans, IRMA THOMAS turns 74! Currently Irma is widely celebrated as one of the greatest song stylists of the golden age of soul music. People can't get enough of her classics like "It's Raining," "Breakaway," "Time Is On My Side," "Hittin' On Nothing," "I Wish Someone Would Care," "Ruler of My Heart," etc etc etc. She's one of the most requested artists at my dance parties which is fantastic. However, I remember a time, just 20 years ago, when Irma Thomas was not well-known to people outside of the gulf coast region. The wonders of the Internet have made her a bigger star today than she was when she initially released her stellar records of the 1960s. It's one of those internet occurrences for which I'm extremely grateful. It really has increased visibility of artists who would have been long forgotten. As someone who's more or less dedicated my life to celebrating the artistry of these folks, it's been interesting to watch this phenomenon occur in front of my eyes.
Before the Internet, classic soul artists like Irma Thomas had another avenue for maintaining a career in the national (and international) spotlight - The Blues Circuit and blues radio. In the the late 1970s when traditional soul music was in the rear view mirror of the public eye, a handful of independent record labels began cropping up under the umbrella of the genre of "the blues". Artists who were popular in the 1960s as soul musicians where dusted off, repackaged, and marketed as BLUES artists (possibly because of the popularity of The Blues Brothers movie?) and a handful of musicians from the R&B and soul era where given opportunities to launch a second phase of their careers (maybe a 3rd phase for those who tried their hand at disco).
In the 1980s and 1990s we saw "blues" releases by soul/R&B artists like Barbara Lynn, Johnny Adams, Ruth Brown, Syl Johnson, Solomon Burke, Mighty Sam McClain, Ann Peebles, Miss Lavelle White, Johnny Copeland, Bobby Bland, The Persuasions, Otis Clay, Earl King, Charles Brown, Nappy Brown, Carol Fran, Linda Hopkins, and IRMA THOMAS. Irma became the queen of that scene and was able to keep building a niche fan base until the Internet, satellite radio, vinyl revival, and the soul dance party resurgence all worked together to make her a superstar amongst a new generation of hipsters.
All of this is great news, because if there is anyone who deserves to be appreciated for her artistry, it's Irma Thomas! She's been busting her butt in the music industry non-stop for at least 55 years!
Like Baby Washington, Irma Thomas is one of those artists who sings for the outsiders, the dejected, the rejected, the misunderstood, the under-appreciated. We've all been there (some of us more than others) and those are the times when we're at our most vulnerable. Perhaps that's why the voice of Irma Thomas is able to seep it's way deep into our damaged hearts, do a little spackling, and prepare it for permanent repair.
I've chosen one of Irma's uptempo positive tunes for my record of the day. It's from her Allen Toussaint-produced era. I have a soft spot for Allen, what can I say. This song was written by him and is representative of the New Orleans soul sound of the early 1960s.
I love you Irma. Thank you for 55 years of providing musical therapy for wounded hearts.
I grew up in the 1980s, however I consider myself a child of the 1960s. Well, actually I'm a child of 1960s nostalgia. It was during my childhood that people (white people specifically) who grew up in the 1960s were the target demographic for marketers. Today we're bombarded with nostalgic revisiting of the 1990s for the target demographic of today. But back in the 80s pop culture was saturated in nostalgic looks back into the late 1950s and the entire 1960s. From Back to the Future to Stand By Me to The Big Chill to "oldies" radio stations to the California Raisins commercials to 1950s-themed burger joints to The Wonder Years to the music featured on Moonlighting to the revival of The Monkees to Dirty Dancing to Hairspray and the list goes on and on.
Of course nostalgia is a simplified and romanticized view of something. In light of that, my understanding of the 1960s was narrow at best. And that's why for many years I had very little appreciation of Lesley Gore. All I knew of her was that she sang two of my least favorite songs "It's My Party" and "Judy's Turn to Cry". Those were the records they chose to revive during the nostalgia era. It was the 80s, the decade in which they tried to turn back the clock to more conservative values. They weren't going to be pulling out Lesley's declarations of independence or anything that would challenge the traditional conservative way of living. So, when daytime talk shows would have their "where are they now" shows dedicated to pop idols of the 1960s, it was "It's My Party" that they wanted Lesley Gore to lipsynch to. I thought she was a travesty because young me couldn't imagine letting some boy ruin my party.
It wasn't until the late 1980s that I found out about "You Don't Own Me." I'm not even sure how I heard it. I just know that it completely changed my perspective about everything I thought I knew about women of the 1960s. I rarely felt connected to the pop music of the 80s. I mean, one of the biggest hits of 1987 was "Only In My Dreams" by Debbie Gibson, who like Lesley Gore, was the teen star of her day. It is a far cry from a demand for respect of one's personal identity. That's why as I grew into a teenager who would come to identify myself as a feminist, I realized the music of the 1960s had so much more to offer me in terms of radical messages than the pop music that was made for my own generation.
Additionally, it's worth considering the magical partnership of Lesley and Pacific Northwest native Quincy Jones. I really think that even to this day it's not widely known that Q produced most of Lesley's greatest records. He often gave her a soul-pop influenced sound that was key in her phasing out of teen drama and crossing over to become a tiny giant in pop music history.
So today, I grieve for Lesley Gore. I lament the way she's regretfully been summed up in today's headlines as Singer of "It's My Party", because Lesley Gore is so much more than that. She deserves to be recognized and acknowledged as someone who lit a fuse for feminism in the hearts of millions of young girls everywhere. Her anthem was one of the reasons that women like me were able to break free from societal expectations and go our own way, and though the path we choose my be uphill and rough and rugged, at least it's ours. Our choices belong to us.
She lived the life she sang about in her songs. She took the difficult path and remained true to herself, living as a lesbian in much less accepting times. As I said yesterday, I can't imagine how difficult it must have been juggling pop superstardom as a lesbian in the early 1960s. She deserves accolades for that in itself.
Today's song of the day is another one of Lesley's songs of independence. It's also a KILLER dance record. Just a couple of weeks ago I finally got my hands on a copy (thanks to Wildman James) after years of searching. Today I ask you to salute Lesley Gore by dancing to this record and then celebrate your individual identity, what ever it may be.
I can imagine what it must have been like when Roberta Flack stepped onto the scene, a breath of fresh air unlike no other. Like so many other greats I've written about on this blog, she seemed to defy categorization. She was kind of a cross between Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Barbara Lewis, Nancy Wilson, and Nina Simone. She fit perfectly within the aesthetic of the singer-songwriter and yet she recorded mostly compositions written by others. Perhaps it was her individualized interpretations of those songs that made them seem like they were her own.
Take for example my selection of the day. Flack's minimalist version of a song made famous by Little Willie John as a bold power ballad. She has stripped it down to pure sentiment. It's a quiet late night conversation between forbidden lovers, rather than the declaration from a mountaintop given by Little Willie (I love both versions btw).
Roberta Flack's massive crossover success opened new roads for soul music, roads that were softer and quieter. The pathway to the music of someone like Sade seems like a straight line from "Killing Me Softly". She certainly made a lasting impact.
On another note, when I listen to this song I can't help but reflect on how much has changed for gay people in the past 20 years. Just two decades ago I was playing various versions of "Let Them Talk" on my radio show, using it as a veiled message song, a comment on gay love as an act of defiance in a less-than-tolerant world. No one had "come out" on tv yet. Society at large was happy to have us hide in the shadows.
These days the concept of "forbidden love" almost seems like a faded memory. But, of course there are still a lot of dangerous homophobes out there. There are still tv hosts who think we won all of our rights "too quickly". There is a still a judge in Alabama taking a stand against equality like a new George Wallace. There are still so many battles to fight for trans people. We still have a long way to go. But I sure am happy to feel free to come out from the shadows most of the time.
Happy Birthday Roberta Flack and thank you for your delicate version of this gay anthem. A quiet fire indeed.
As I turn my attention to the upcoming Women of Soul edition of Sugar Town, we celebrate the 73rd birthday of soul chanteuse Barbara Lewis. "S" Words like "silky", "smooth", "sweet", " satin", "sensual," and "sophisticated" have become cliche when describing the vocal stylings of Barbara Lewis, and yet it's hard to get away from that. It also seems hard for some people (even some soul DJs I've talked to) to get away from confusing Barbara Lewis with some of the other Barbaras of the era like Barbara Mason and Barbara Lynn. It's the kind of thing that I find a little bothering. To me, these 3 Barbaras couldn't be more different.
Barbara Lewis had three definitive pop-soul ballad hits in the early 1960s, "Baby I'm Yours", "Hello Stranger," and "Make Me Your Baby". This seductive sound became her signature and she applied it during the symphonic psychedelic soul era with this cover version of "Windmills of Your Mind" from the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for this song in the first place, but when paired with "the Barbara Lewis touch" it truly sends me whirling.
It seems like Don Covay had his fingers in just about every piece of R&B pie baked from the 1950s to the 1970s. His contributions were significant in the development of the r&b-pop dance craze of the early 1960s (with his "Pony Time") and Southern soul (with Stax as well as Aretha Franklin). He also dabbled in acid-hippie album-oriented soul-blues-rock of the late 1960s, raw funk, 1970s slow jams, and even Philly disco-soul. When he wasn't busy recording himself, he was writing songs that would be classics for others.
I can't say it would be hard to imagine soul music without Don Covay. No. It would be IMPOSSIBLE to imagine soul music without Don Covay. And with his passing over the weekend, sadly we've lost one of the very roots of this music.
He had a song called "Iron Out the Rough Spots" but luckily with few exceptions, Covay laid the gritty, raw quality of his voice out on the table for all to hear. He balanced the ruggedness with a unique, delicate vulnerability in his performances. I guess you could say Don Covay's jagged edges were often draped in satin. Those who would try to imitate him (Mick Jagger, eh hem) would not be able to capture the nuances of the Covay delivery. He was one-of-a-kind.
Today's selection of the day is by The Soul Clan, a soul supergroup initiated by Covay (the name being a political, Black Power jab at the KKK). This group was supposed to include Otis Redding, but unfortunately he died before they made it to the studio. Otis was replaced by Ben E. King who was joined by Joe Tex, Solomon Burke, Arthur Conely, and of course Don Covay. This song was written by Covay with another recently departed soul legend, Bobby Womack. Now that I'm listening to it again, I can definitely hear an echo of this record in D'Angelo's "How Does It Feel". What do you think?
Queer Country Junction returns this Saturday at the Kenton Club in North Portland. I'm always on the lookout for rainbow country songs to play at this event. It turns out the rainbow is a popular symbol in vintage country music. When I was digging for musical treasure in Minnesota I found rainbow gold!
This record is by Ruby Falls (originally known as Bertha Dorsey) who took her stage name from the water falls at Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. She charted nine Billboard country hits between 1974 - 1979. Unfortunately she passed away suddenly at age 40 of a brain hemorrhage.
Though she had all those hits and was even nominated "Most Promising Vocalist" by the country industry trade media in 1975, Ruby Falls is yet another artist who has seemed to have faded from the history of country music.
Help to change that by listening to my selection of the day and dance to it at the Kenton Club on Saturday! See ya soon!
DJ Action Slacks
I'm excited to highlight some of my favorite records in a variety of genres (soul, R&B, classic country, rockabilly, oldies, garage rock, etc). These won't all necessarily be "dance" records per se. They will all be records that I believe deserve a special listen. I simply love good music, rare or not. Hopefully you will spend some time here and love music right along with me! Lets give this a shot!