Sondra "Blinky" Williams, who was born on this day in 1944 in Oakland, is probably best known for her duets with Edwin Starr and for being the female voice in the theme for the TV show Good Times. But to me she is best known for her killer funky-blues version of "Money" which proved to be quite popular on the Sugar Town dance floor in the depths of the Great Recession. Of course, with the wealth gap widening, the middle class disappearing, and the influx of wealthy people migrating to Portland and pushing out those less fortunate, I have a feeling this record will ring true to the struggling population of Portland for a long time to come. CRANK IT UP and so that the people in the shiny new condos can hear it.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
As Mad Men comes to a close, I can't help but process my thoughts and feelings about the final episode. I keep reading disappointed reviews by critics, however I found the final episode a fitting conclusion and surprisingly satisfying.
All of us mid-century junkies were sucked into this show for the aesthetics. As for myself, I begrudgingly began watching after the first season had fully aired. As a dedicated feminist, I was originally deterred by all the male Mad Men fans who were actively celebrating the sexist "good ole days" depicted on the program. It wasn't long before the gorgeous artistic direction of the show proved to be something I simply couldn't resist. After a handful of episodes I found this wasn't a show about MEN as much as it was the story about the journey of women (admittedly mostly white women) during the decade that would forever transform gender roles in the United States, all told against the backdrop of the industry that did so much to control and define the confining roles and impossible standards set for women in the 20th century.
Modern feminists grabbed a hold of the character Peggy Olson and claimed her as their representation. A lot of feminists are angry about the conclusion of Peggy's story in a variety of ways. They seem to think she was betrayed by a storyline not true to her character. But is that really true, or is she being judged by modern standards? Are people just angry because she didn't make the choice they would have liked her to make?
My viewpoint is different. I think her decision to stay at McCann was totally in-line with the character. She obviously LOVED being a part of that system. She loved playing the game that would allow her to ascend up the ladder within that system and patterning her career after her mentor, Don Draper. She revelled in the power she could wield over her subordinates. It makes perfect sense that she would be happy staying with McCann.
In terms of the sudden love connection with Stan, it seemed to me that Peggy just went along with Stan because...why not? Nothing better had come along and they're best friends. That's something Peggy had done throughout the series in terms of romance. She just kind of goes along with whatever's in front of her. Many people have criticized the sappiness of love story at the end, but I think the "corniness" of it was intentional. It played like the contrived emotions of a vintage television ad for Bell telephone company. What could be more appropriate for a tv show about advertising?
For all of us who hung our professional feminist dreams on Peggy (myself included), the joke is on us. CLEARLY we should have been less surprised by the triumph of Joan. Aren't we a bunch of jerks for not realizing that it was JOAN all along who was the closest representation of today's modern feminist SHEros? I was literally cheering (complete with fist pumps) for her throughout the episode. I think most people assumed that Joan would continue to be punished for utilizing her sex appeal for advancement in the business world.
I feel fairly confident that like me, most women have felt underestimated at times. Perhaps that's why it feels so incredibly satisfying to see Joan seize opportunity and establish her own power. She represents all of us who have been written off, dismissed, or ignored- The people who weren't allowed to thrive within the established power structure, who have come to realization that if we want to flourish we'll have to do it ourselves. We have to build our own thing from the ground up.
So, to those who say the Mad Men finale wasn't feminist enough simply because of Peggy didn't follow the trajectory you define as feminist, I say feminism can and should include whole host of perspectives. Feminism can be Betty staking claim in what's best for her children. It can be Peggy simply choosing to do what she wants to do rather than following a contemporary idea of ambition. AND it can be Joan choosing her own professional ambition instead of a man. MOST of all, feminism is the telling of all of these women's stories and their journeys to their own brands of self-empowerment. Our power lies in having options.
Today's record of the day goes out to Joan who was branded a sex-pot and a party girl. The message is, NEVER UNDERESTIMATE a "party girl", or any woman for that matter. There are still barriers to be broken and we're coming to claim or stake!
This song was recorded by the Big 3 featuring Cass Elliot (pre- Mamas and the Paps days) in the early days of when the Mad Men series takes place. Women's liberation was just beginning to simmer under the surface and the women performers within the early 1960s radical folk music scene took inspiration from classic blues artists. This record is a cover of an Ida Cox song originally recorded in 1924. In this song we celebrate the women who bucked traditions so that the women of today could have options. And it's a reminder to keep being wild and untamed. Never settle for less than what you deserve.
What was it about BB King that allowed him to float to the top of a sea of brilliant blues musicians making him the most well-known artist of the genre? I've been asking this question for many years and I always come back to the same answer- MASSIVE likability. Yes, to become a musical ambassador a person has to have qualities beyond just musical skill. BB King was a guy with a warm personality, a brand that was easily marketable to the masses, and the ability to endure. It helps that he rose to prominence during the birth of rock n roll, an era when the general record buying public was much more friendly with blues artists.
However, as the decades went on, blues went back underground. Only a very small handful of artists would remain in public consciousness. It was the BB King brand that thrived via commercials, print ads, his club for tourists in Memphis, his guest appearances on other people's records, etc. People never got tired of BB. You can't really attribute that to his music. It was the power of his celebrity. He was the go-to guy when you wanted someone to represent the blues, especially as his contemporaries went on to the next life.
The LEGEND of BB King is so huge, it's hard to imagine a world without him. He falls in that elite category of people who personify their art. There is now a gaping hole in the landscape of our American culture, much like when Ray Charles and Johnny Cash passed away. These folks are as much (if not more) a part of who we are as a nation as any political leaders.
So today I mourn the passing of an American icon. Today I will dance to what is currently my favorite BB King 45. I hope you'll do a little shuffle too. If you are someone who was introduced to the blues through BB King, I hope you'll take some time to dig a little deeper into the genre in his honor. He led you there to show you there's so much more to love.
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.
Amos Milburn was born on this day in 1927. He was a part of a movement of Texas-born R&B musicians who migrated to Los Angeles to take part in the port-WWII West Coast R&B scene. His piano-based, Jump Blues party records are some of the best ever made!
Like this one! Milburn recorded this song a few times and I was originally only familiar with an earlier, slower version. But then, via a collection of recordings featuring the legendary drummer Earl Palmer, I was introduced to this 1950s version. It ROCKED MY SOCKS OFF! So good! This is no-holds-barred, rock-em sock-em, barrelhouse/roadhouse rhythm n blues! Give this one a listen if you want to ramp up your day!
Tonight I'll have the pleasure of spinning some Foot Stompin' mid-century music down at Dig A Pony. I can't wait to unleash George "Wild Child" Butler on SE Portland! If your butt can't shake to this one, well there's no hope for you in this Age of the Butt.
Butler grew up in Alabama where he taught himself to play harmonica (upside down) but relocated to Chicago as part of "The Great Migration." It was there that he recorded a couple of singles for Jewel Records with legendary sidemen Willie Dixon, Jimmy Dawkins, and Cash McCall. It's been said that Butler described his own style as "swamp blues." With Willie Dixon's involvement as songwriter, possible producer, and lead vocalist on this track, I guess we can hear what happens when Chicago blues wades in the swamp. Nothing gets bogged down here! So dive into the swamp with me tonight and dance to this one. Before you know it, you'll find yourself up to your eyeballs in pure polyrhythmic hoo doo blues.
Bobby "Blue" Bland was born on this day 85 years ago in Barretville, TN. Though he never achieved much success on the pop charts, Bobby Bland was a GIANT in the blues/soul world. He is perhaps one of the most influential and imitated vocalists of the genres and certainly is credited with launching the genre of soul-blues.
To soul dance party goers he's best known for the famous Bobby Bland growl he unleashed as he roared through uptempo gospel-blues records like "Turn On Your Love Light" and "Don't Cry No More." However, Bland also could gently massage a lyric as masterfully as some of the greatest vocalists in American music history. And that's why today I'm featuring "Building A Fire With Rain," the absolutely gorgeous rumba-soul-blues B-Side of another great Bland tune "Poverty". The rumba rhythm is actually quite common in the blues and as I write this and think about some of my favorite records, I'm noticing that I tend to have an affinity for rumba blues.
But enough about me, let's talk about you and how much you're gonna love listening to this song today.
If you've got a good groove, is there anything wrong with sticking with it? Slim Harpo's funky blues groove was so good that OTHER people borrowed it for their own records. It doesn't bother me really. I don't mind derivative records as long as they're good. I can't get enough of a good thing when it comes to records.
Slim Harpo was born on this day in 1924 in Lobdell, LA. He started out as a Jimmy Reed-influenced harmonica blues artist in the late 1950s. However, once he found his 1966 "Baby Scratch My Back" reverb groove, he repeated the formula for a string of funky blues hits.
The Record of the Day was recorded by Slim in Nashville with the Hi Records Rhythm Section backing him up. That's why this one really cooks up the dance floor! Enjoy
The Buddy Johnson Orchestra is often credited as being the link between the big band era and the rhythm & blues era and he is considered by some as one of the fathers of R&B.
The band was launched by South Carolina native Buddy Johnson (born on this day in 1915) at the dawn of WWII. As the war raged on, Johnson began turning to the blues as inspiration and began to blend it with his big band sound. When the war ended, other jump band leaders paired down their bands to small 4 to 6 piece combos. Alternately, Johnson's band kept growing at one point reaching 17 members. It must have been an incredible sound to experience in person, which explains why he remained a popular live act coast to coast into the rock n roll era.
The record of the day features Buddy's little sister Ella on vocals. She is a legend as well.
Born on this day in 1927, Willie Mae Thornton would become one of the most revered and unique women in early rock n roll. It’s widely agreed that drag-dressing Big Mama Thornton was likely a queer ahead of her time. Although, it can’t be denied that she followed a long tradition of lezzie blues singers(Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter, etc) including the "bulldagger" Gladys Bentley.
The tragedy of her story has captivated followers of rock ‘n’ roll history. She has become the poster child for Black artists who were screwed over by the music industry. Her biggest hit “Hound Dog” earned her a mere $500 in 1952 (roughly $4000 today) as she never earned any royalties beyond her initial payment. To add insult to injury, her version was overshadowed in R&R history for decades due to the far surpassing popularity of Elvis Presley’s 1956 version. The same thing happened with Janis Joplin’s cover of Big Mama’s “Ball n Chain”.
Legend has it that she “died alone and penniless” after years of alcohol abuse, no doubt a result of frustrations and tribulations with the music industry and possibly her struggle with her sexual identity.
Of course today she is celebrated as a queer pioneer who bravely smashed expectations of what was acceptable attire for a lady entertainer.
The Record of the Day is Big Mama's nod to one of her inspirations, Memphis Minnie (a pioneer in her own right). This song was written by Minnie's husband and musical partner Little Son Joe and was originally recorded by Minnie In Chicago in 1941. It has since become a bit of a blues standard.
Big Mama's EXPLOSIVE rock 'n' soul version is from 1965. It took YEARS for me to find an affordable copy. I finally was able to debut it at the last Sugar Town. Dream come true!
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!