Willie Nelson, who began his recording career in 1956 in Vancouver, Washington, was born on this day 82 years ago. Willie's story is well-known to most.: Disc jockey turned songwriter turned outlaw country pioneer turned actor turned pop balladeer turned activist turned president of the stoner nation turned IRS target turned American treasure.
I'll fully admit, Willie Nelson is someone I came to appreciate as an adult. As I child I mostly knew him from his awkward duet with Julio Iglesias and just for being Willie Nelson. As a young adult I started to appreciate his music and I find that appreciation growing with each day.
I think because he's always been visible, it feels like he's family. Willie's like your cool, weird old stoner hippie uncle who talks a lot about booze, weed, hangovers and one-night stands.
Happy Birthday Uncle Willie!
Conga player and band leader Joe Cuba, "the Father of Latin Boogaloo" was born on this day in New York City in 1931. IN the mid-1960s he was instrumental in the development and popularization of Latin Soul (a blending of Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican musical elements with soul music). He's probably best know for his hit "Bang Bang" which has shown a certain amount of longevity over the years, especially due to cover versions.
I find endless inspiration in the music of the 1960s. It was an explosion of the intermingling of genres and cultures, a reflection of the desire for a more integrated society where contributions of individual groups of people were valued equally. Within MUSIC the myth of the American melting pot could be more fully realized than in every day life. In Latin soul we hear the musical integration of the New York Puerto Rican and Cuban population. Soul was integrated into Latin music and Latin was integrated into soul. The Latin influence in soul music went from being a gimmick in the early 1960s to being fully fused with funky soul by the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Joe Cuba was one of the KINGs of this genre, and his party records are legendary guaranteed floor-fillers that for me, have raised the roof with nearly every spin. We lost Joe Cuba in 2009, but his musical party carries on. And "Oh Yeah" is one of the BEST summertime songs EVER!!!!!!!
I would like to use this space to congratulate Bill Withers on his induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Though the RnRHoF is imperfect in its selection process, I'm happy to use this excuse to give a nod to my favorite live soul LP. Mr. Withers has long been in the DJ Action Slacks Favorite Artist Hall of Fame, which is maybe not quite as prestigious, but includes some really great company.
I think I could easily say that I follow the ethical philosophy of the School of Bill Withers. I've been listening to him since my formative years, and his music message is burned into my psyche. This man was much more than a singer to me. As someone who found his voice a little later than most famous musicians(in his 30s), he was an inspiration for me as I struggled to find my own creative path.
The Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall LP represents everything I love about Mr. Withers. It clearly shows Withers as the soul representation of the singer-songwriter movement of the early 1970s and as a soul-folk troubadour he sings every hue of emotion.
This album has it all: songs of celebration, songs of the deepest sorrow and hopelessness, inspirational message songs about togetherness and overcoming adversity, protest songs about Vietnam and inequality, soul-folk story songs, entertaining stage patter, a lady percussionist, and funky dance grooves. And because it travels across such a wide range of emotion, I can't recommend just one song off of this album. I simply must recommend the entire thing.
I've listened to this album at least a kabillion times and I NEVER get tired of it. He takes me on a journey EVERY time, bringing me to tears one moment and celebrating humanity the next. Check it out. You won't be sorry.
Pop-soul icon Dusty Springfield was born on this day in 1939 in West Hampstead, North London, England.
As you all know, Dusty Springfield has an epic musical legacy. She is one of the greatest pop singers of all time. She was also the queen of British blue-eyed soul singers. Often times, her music transcended musical categories. She was also a glamourous, gorgeous diva. Her incredible success and popularity make it all the more unlikely that this legend would publicly come out as early as 1970. It's such an incredibly brave act, something to be deeply admired.
Dusty is probably best remembered for the way she could reach out and caress her listeners through her delicate ballads. And it's true, nobody could do that quite like Dusty, BUT she could also wail when she wanted to. It's unfortunate and disappointing that so few of her soul stompers made it to 45. I guess they just didn't want to market her that way, or perhaps they didn't have faith in the public buying that side of her. Whatever the reason, we sure did miss out.
Her version of "Can I Get A Witness" is a killer floor-filler. It could have been a SOLID GOLD hit! It took me years to find it on a 7" but it became an instant Sugar Town classic upon the first spin.
Happy Birthday Dusty and thank you for your legacy.
Bessie Smith, probably the most influential lady blues singer of all time, was born on this day 121 years ago in Chattanooga, TN. If you draw a line of influences for any female soul singer, you'll most likely find the root leads back to Bessie Smith. The foundation of American popular music largely rests on her shoulders. It's hard to imagine leaving that kind of enormous and LASTING impact on culture. But it's easy to explain when you consider that the vocalists she directly influenced went on to influence so many who came after them: Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, to name just a few. The influence of Bessie Smith fans out from there.
With this HBO bio featuring Queen Latifah on it's way, Bessie is all the rage these days. It's great to see her getting some respect. Hopefully a new generation will seek out her music after they learn her story.
My favorite will always be "Gimme A Pigfoot," from Bessie's final recording session and released at the lowest point of the Great Depression. Admittedly, I'm no expert about music of this era. If anyone has analysis of this song, I'd love to hear it. It seems like she's mocking high brow society at the opening of the record and then celebrating Black culture for the rest of the song. Certainly "party songs" tend to be popular in eras of great struggle, as people welcome distraction. Give this a listen and draw your own conclusions.
In this era of the #BlackLivesMatter civil rights movement, certainly Bessie's story is poignant. The greatest entertainment star of her era essentially died because she was refused medical treatment due to her race. I'm thankful her story is being told in a very high profile way and hopefully the media will draw some connections to what's still happening today.
Loretta Lynn (Webb) was born on this day in 1932 bringing with her a tidal wave of feminist country music and 2-named siblings who would follow in her footsteps (Peggy Sue and Crystal Gayle I'm looking at you). It brings me great joy to say that she launched her music career in the Pacific Northwest (in the state of Washington) and she's been cookin' with Crisco ever since. Which is apropos since Crisco parties were a BIG deal up in this region.
She was often imitated but never duplicated. What Loretta brought us was unprecedented REALNESS (to use a term popular in the Queer community) in popular country music. Though at the time she didn't identify as a feminist, by most other standards that's exactly what she was. Her songs have a recurring theme of a woman advocating for her own needs and rights. And though some of her songs in which she threatens to punch or shoot another lady over the ownership rights to a particular man may not promote sisterhood in a feminist way, I can still appreciate her willingness to defend her "property". I guess I'm guilty of giving her a free pass on that. "It'll Be Open Season On You" is a real guilty pleasure for me.
My selection of the day was not written by Loretta, but it's representative of the spirit of her music, and demonstrates that themes emerging in country music were not far from the radical ideas in popular music at the time.
I would like to extend an enormous HAPPY 75th BIRTHDAY to Lester Chambers of the Chamber Brothers, who's still out there playing music.
Lester launched an online campaign a couple of years ago to increase awareness of the unfair business practices of record labels that were experienced by artists throughout the 20th century. The Chambers Brothers, whose record "Time Has Come Today" remains a classic of the psych-soul era still heard regularly today, did not receive any royalties from 1967 - 1994 - A shameful way to treat a band who used their music to create positive change.
The Chambers Brothers started out as a gospel group, but soon took to the stages of the folk scene of the early 1960s. By the end of the decade they were electrified and had pioneered a sound unlike any other. Like much of the music I have come to love, it's hard to draw boundaries around the music of the Chambers Brothers. They are all at once rock n roll, psych-rock, psych-soul, gospel, blues, folk. Perhaps this is why their record label was never able to repeat the success of "Time Has Come Today", for there was no lack of interesting output by this band. Perhaps the label didn't really know how to promote them.
Since it's Lester's birthday, I've chosen to highlight a song written by him. This has been a staple in my collection since the very beginning of my live DJ career. It's the perfect bridge into Latin soul and one of my all-time favorite summertime songs. Almost a guaranteed floor-filler.
Happy Birthday Lester! Thank you for your gift!
Carl Perkins, whose story is fabled in rock n roll lore, was born on this day in 1932 in Tiptonville, TN. Perkins, perhaps more than any other, has come to be the symbol of "rockabilly" music. And I will admit, I was in aw when visiting Sun Studios a couple of years ago and standing in the very room in which he laid down the tracks for records that would define American music for the latter half of the 20th century. Like everyone else on the studio tour, I couldn't help but "dork out" with the famed original microphone into which Carl reportedly sang "one for the money, two for the show."
He would ride the wave of his seminal record "Blue Suede Shoes" for decades. In fact many of his post-Sun releases would riff off of it with other clothing-themed titles like "Pink Pedal Pushers," "Pointed Toe Shoes", "Levi Jacket (And a Long Tail Shirt)" and so on. Although, I love songs about shoes just as much as the next guy, one of my favorite Carl Perkins songs is the gospabilly FLIP side of "Pointed Toe Shoes." I'm a sucker for a danceable tune with an uplifting message, what can I say. This is a lovely representation of all things I love in Southern music: the melding of influences, a determination to overcome adversity, and a celebration of a brighter tomorrow.
It wasn't until last year that I found out Carmen McRae was queer (word on the internet is that she hooked up with Billie Holiday). By some accounts, she struggled professionally for sexuality. Although, you'd never get that these days as she is one of the most revered jazz vocalists of all time. But ever since I find out about her queerness, the mysteriousness of her music makes a lot more sense to me. In fact, I have an even deeper appreciation of her version of this very queer-leaning classic.
Carmen McRae's vocal style always struck me as eccentric and occasionally borderline avant garde. For lack of a more sophisticated description, some of her phrasing is kind of weird. That's what I've always appreciated about her.
My selection of the day is her soul-jazz version of "Sounds of Silence". It cooks. It's a slightly psychedelic. Best of all, it features one of her hip/weird performances that at times sounds like when my mom would try to sing along with Simon & Garfunkel on the radio melded with sheer brilliance. Actually, my mom singing along with Simon and Garfunkel on the radio IS sheer brilliance.
Today, I started loving Bonnie Owens & Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again" all over again. It really is one of the most perfect unrequited love songs ever written. I have to admit that my favorite version of this song is not available on vinyl. It's from 2003 by Texas soul-blues artist Miss Lavelle White. It's definitely worth a few listens.
For the purposes of this blog though (I have vowed to stick strictly to recordings available on vinyl), I'll be featuring the more uptempo version by Bettye Swann. Still excellent. She actually released a couple of versions of this song, but this is the one I prefer.
I think it's fair to say that this song is one of the primary reasons I started to dive deeper into classic country in the first place. It's so exquisite, I just needed to hear more and more. I never get tired of this song, whether it's Merle's version, or Sammi Smith, or Miss Lavelle, or anybody. It's just that good. It's the reason I stood and stared at the written words in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville for a good 2 solid minutes. To see this masterpiece in Bonnie Owens' handwriting, it was like viewing a classic painting in an art gallery. Truly a wonder to behold.
Happy Birthday Merle!
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!