Happy 74th Birthday to Mitty Collier, one of the MIGHTIEST voices in Soul Music, who was born on this day in Birmingham, AL. She was discovered in 1959 when after touring as a gospel singer, she entered DJ Al Benson's Chicago talent contest. She was soon signed to Chess Records she recorded her signature song, her secular rendition of Rev James Cleavland's "I Had A Talk With God". In the pages of soul history Mitty's career has often been summed up in just that one record, but there's much more to Mitty Collier, including a handful of uptempo #45records that over the years have become soul dance party floor-filler classics.
My favorite will always be the B-Side to "I Had A Talk With My Man" soul bopper "Free Girl (In the Morning)" which I played at Club Nitty Gritty this past Friday. In this performance Mitty packs a powerful punch when she swings two fists of booming blues belts. Ba-BAM! This song hits you with it's celebratory feminist liberation, but it's also representative of what is incredibly common in soul music of the 1960s, a veiled reference to the struggle for Civil Rights.
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.
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.
On this day in 1929 Martin Luther King, Jr was born. There's nothing I can say about MLK that hasn't already been expressed a million times over. Today I will simply say BLACK LIVES MATTER. The journey continues and the fight for equality carries on.
Until this country acknowledges and addresses the deeply rooted racism and classism woven into our system, true equality cannot be achieved. Until the majority of white people in this country realize institutionalized racism not only exists, but belongs to them and they need to actively help fix it, this cannot be fully changed. So, until then (or until we can throw balance of power off) we must keep pushing on, keep demanding change, keep organizing, keep recruiting people to get off of their couches and their devices and stand up for an ethical America, and allies need to keep persuading and coaxing the rest of the folks to see the truth.
The Record of the Day is by Chicago-based gospel and sometimes soul singer Shirley Wahls. It's an inspirational track released in the year following King's assassination. The words couldn't be more relevant today. Listen to this song. Watch "Eyes on the Prize". Go see "Selma" in the theater. Boycott the Oscars.
Things are getting pretty dicey out there in the world of social justice activism. My heart goes out to everyone in the wake of the tragic events in NY over the weekend. My holiday prayer is that this doesn't diminish the movement and that people continue to unify over human rights in the United States. This is an historic movement, and happily people who have taken on this fight in the past have left us the gift of songs to lift our spirits when we hit roadblocks on the path to freedom.
So as we go into the holiday week and hopefully have at least one day of peace, this song comes to mind.
This epic performance is by one of my favorite vocalists, Judy Clay (with Booker T. & the MGs) for the 1969 soundtrack Uptight. The ambiguous gospel song was written by Booker T. Jones and released in the year following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr when the nation was desperately in need of messages of endurance in the face of such an earth shattering setback.
So if you're in need of a little lift, I strongly encourage you to give this song a listen on repeat.
I don't typically write about new music ("new" being anything recorded beyond 1985) but on this day in 1965 Detroit garage/punk rock legend Mick Collins was born. Today I will make an exception to my vintage music rule.
During the late 1990s I was a politically-charged soul radio DJ in a punk rock town. I didn't feel very punk myself because my musical passion and area of study has always been based in jazz, blues, soul, and R&B. However, once I began working at the local independent record store and was forced to eat, breathe, and live punk/garage rock every day, I came to realize that my approach to "my art" and the punk approach were very similar. Before long I was wrapped up in the scene. I first observed it as an outsider, then soaked it up like a Viva paper towel. I was saturated in the punk ethos and it became a part of me.
My greatest moments of joy during that period were the rare instances was when punk and soul seamlessly fused together. It made me feel like I could be a part of this revolutionary musical movement that surrounded me. And in the early days of George W Bush era it really did feel revolutionary.
It all began when my friend Chris Sutton introduced me to the music of Mick Collins. Chris and I worked together at the record store and we connected through our shared passion for soul, jazz, blues, and funk. Chris is also a punk though and he (along with my other coworkers) did their best to recruit me (unintentionally I'm sure) to their cause.
One day Chris showed me that in spite of what I thought, there's something for me in punk rock. He told me all about one of his musical heroes, this guy Mick Collins out of Detroit who started a legendary blues-influenced punk band called the Gories. Chris was right, I loved it. There WAS something for me in punk rock!
Then came Ultraglide in Black by Mick's band The Dirtbombs. In the wake of what felt like a stolen election, Ultraglide In Black felt timely. It fused the music of the Civil Rights era with turn-of-the-21st-century punk rock. For me, that record sounded like a musical assault on the recent political catastrophe, a strike back at the powers that actively disenfranchised and exploited scores of people. It proved to be even more potent after 9/11 which occurred within 3 months of the album's release. While a national tragedy was being used to strip away remaining civil liberties and the government doubled down on its war on many U.S. citizens (POCs, LGBTQs, poor people, women, etc) Mick's jagged-edged cover of Sly Stone's "Underdog" as well as Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" seemed to be the perfect soundtrack for the times. It remains one of my favorite soul LPs of all time.
Chris would go on to become an accomplished and revered musician in the punk world and his band COCO would tour with the Dirtbombs. And then incredibly enough, Chris ended up playing IN the Dirtbombs and even recording with them (because he's Chris and he lives the dream). BTW, they are still cranking out great stuff!
So happy birthday Mick Collins! Thanks for the artistic illumination and thank you for getting this underdog through 2001 and 2002. Those were some trying times. And thanks to Chris for helping to guide me to a whole other musical world and for inspiring me to live my musical dreams as well.
One of my visions for Sugar Town was for it to be more than a dance party. I wanted Sugar Town to be a community of soul-loving queers who gather regularly to support each other in a welcoming environment in which people could feel relaxed enough to enjoy themselves without worry of judgement. In short, a place where we're free to "let it all hang out" in a supportive atmosphere. Of course, for this vision to become a reality it takes a group effort. As they say, "It takes a village". That's why I feel blessed that so many wonderful Portland queers have become members of the Sugar Town community (I like to call them Sugars).
I'm riding on a high from Saturday's Sugar Town Sno-Ball which really felt like my vision had become a reality. DJ Lar-Supreme brought incredible positive vibes to our town (not to mention the best dance moves I've seen in a long time). His smile lit up the room and we all were basking in that warmth.
In the years to come, I hope for our community to keep growing and to include folks from the full spectrum of the Pacific Northwest LGBTQA community. I hope for Sugar Town to be a safe haven where we can come together in love for a positive recharge, especially when the world around us feels like it's spinning out of control. We'll come together for a pause, then go out there and fight the good fight together.
Thanks to everyone for making last Saturday so special. Thank you for making the holidays truly a season of peace and love, if only for one night.
The Record of the Day is inspired by this experience and my hope for Sugar Town's future. It was recorded in 1971 by a group of young men (I believe at least some of them were teenagers at the time) in a group/band called Love's Children. The band originated from Gary, IN and recorded as the Domestics for both Stax and Motown before being discovered by Curtis Mayfield who gave them a name change. Rumor has it he was hoping they would fill the void on his Curtom roster after the departure of the 5 Stairsteps (another teen group).
This track was written and produced by Curtis and arranged by the legendary Leroy Hutson.
Smokey Holman of Love's Children is still performing today. Check out his band's site.
"All My Trials" was reportedly a Bahamian folk song, possibly originating in the US South and brought to the islands where it was "rediscovered" and brought back to the states and adopted by the 50s and 60s folk music movement. It was sung in reference to the Civil Rights Movement and found its way into soul music in a variety of ways.
Most people aren't used to hearing protest songs with lines like
"If living were a thing that money could buy,
You know the rich would live
And the poor would die"
from the Cookies. They're best known for their definitive Brill Building pop-girl group hits like "Don't Say Nothing Bad About My Baby" and "Chains" (which is more of a veiled message song).
This record was actually their first after two years without a label. It's the B-side to a soft psych-soul production of a song "Wounded" and was produced by the singing group The Tokens (best known for their huge hit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"). It turns out the world wasn't interested in this edgier version of the Cookies and this ended up being their last single. It's a great way to go out though and I think you'll find it still very relevant 47 years later.
On this day in 1939 Anna Mae Bullock was born in Nutbush, TN. She would become one of the mightiest voices of the 20th Century. There ain't another like her. There never could be. Tina Turner has become a (s)hero to women everywhere, and a voice that rips through the darkness. Like a chainsaw, it cuts through the BS to the heart of every matter.
We all know her story, many of us have lived aspects of it. She has become the physical representation of what we want to believe lives somewhere inside of every disadvantaged person: determination, perseverance, and the ability to triumph over a system that is stacked against us. Over the past 55 (!) years Tina has even helped to coax that out of us from time to time.
My selection of the day is a great example. This is from Ike & Tina Turner's LP "Come Together" which is a psychedelic soul masterpiece and easily in my top 10 favorite soul LPs of all time. This is their sequel to Curtis Mayfield's anthem of the Civil Rights Movement "Keep on Pushin," a song they had performed in their live act for years. Their rock-infused, fuzz-frenzied, soul freakout, turns up the urgency in the fight against the machine. It's a message just as relevant today as it was when it was first released 44 years ago, which perhaps makes it all the more compelling. To me it still sounds fresh, raw, and real.
REALNESS, that's what we're gonna need a whole lot more of it we're going to keep on pushing for a lasting change in America.
What can I say after a night like last night? Déjà vu? It's 1992 all over again and it seems so little has changed. But I know that's not entirely true. Though these egregious injustices remain, what is different (from 1992) is that in general, the young people of this nation have a much broader view of the human condition and seem to be invested in pushing for a real change for everyone. I have to believe that.
Though I come back to it again and again, this is the only song that felt appropriate today.
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!