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Archive for September, 2014

Tomorrow In LA

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In The Crates

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Recently, noted Jazzman, and my old friend, Brian Michel Bacchus challenged me to name the ten albums that have, over the years, influenced me the most. BMB and I go back to when records were still being manufactured on vinyl and sold in long forgotten places called record stores. We worked together, in the Jazz department, at Tower Records on 4th & Broadway. Brian went on to work for RCA, Island and Blue Note Records, where he discovered and signed Norah Jones. Most recently, he has produced two albums on Jazz breakout of the moment, the Grammy-winning, Gregory Porter.

Anyway, to pick your all time top ten influencers is, of course, an impossible task, since your mood and perspective (at least mine do) shift and change frequently. The best you can do is pick the ones that come to mind at the moment while knowing that they will change in an hour. In effort to rise to the challenge (at least there were no iced buckets of water involved) I chose these:

Al Jarreau – We Got By
Earth Wind & Fire – That’s The Way Of The World
Stevie Wonder – Innervisions
Curtis Mayfield – Superfly
Aretha Franklin – Young Gifted & Black
Herbie Hancock – Headhunters
Joni Mitchell – Mingus
A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory
Run/DMC – Raising Hell
John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman – Lush Life

Not a clinker in the bunch. My tastes in Jazz, Funk, Fusion, Soul and Hip Hop are all represented, and the list includes my five favorite recording artists of all time; Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Al Jarreau, Run/DMC and A Tribe Called Quest. Choice selections that span from my teens into my early thirties.

But then, a couple of things happened; a young friend requested that I share some of my knowledge of the Soul Music area with them, and I’ve spent the last two days reading the latest Walter Mosley, Easy Rawlins mystery “Rose Gold”. After I read one of Mosley’s tough guy Rawlins adventures, I often have a taste for Blues, Funk, and barbecue. The thrillers are set in working class Black Los Angeles and are infused with the homey, Southern vibe of the descendants of the immigrant population who brought Blues, Funk and Hip Hop to Cali.

These yearnings forced me to look back, go to Spotify and dig out one of my favorite recordings from one of my favorite bands, the eponymously named, Graham Central Station. Unfortunately, my top ten list didn’t have room for the greasy, churchy, bluesy funkiness of Larry Graham’s tight knit group., but it is one of my undeniable favorites from my formative period.

After having spent several years as a sideman and contributor to Sly & the Family Stone, Graham broke out and started his own thing in the fall of ’73. The album contained a couple of covers of Anne Peebles and Al Green tunes and the Funk workout “Tell Me What It Is”.  For those of you who know Graham as a Black Pop crooner who smashed with “One In A Million” it may be instructive to hear his first joint. For those who don’t know him at all, enjoy. It don’t get much funkier than this.

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Current reading…

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Marion

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BOO FRAIZER

Marion “Boo” Frazier was a giant in this thing of ours. He was my mentor and he died last weekend. The buzz amongst vets on the Interwebs was that he was sick and in need of prayer. I passed on the prayers, and instead chose to call him. Always the optimist, who was heard from time to time to say, “Everybody got to have a man, and you mine,” he assured me he was fine, and told me not to worry. Like a promotion man who was working a record with little opportunity to become a hit, he made me feel good about his chances, but less than a week later he died anyway.

I met him when I was still a green kid, and a part-time disc jockey at the dual AM/FM property, WEAL/WQMG, Greensboro, NC in early 1982. He was passing through doing what he did… getting records played. Later that same year, I would return to Soul City and begin a career in records myself by joining the promotion staff of Sugar Hill Records. The label’s studio and offices were located on what was then West Street, and has since been renamed after Sugar Hill founder and Black Music legend, Sylvia Robinson. This was one block west of Dizzy Gillespie Place, a street named after the great John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, the Bebop architect, trumpeter, a resident of Soul City and older cousin to Boo Frazier.

Two blocks east of Dizzy’s street, A&M Records kept a low key, two room office from where Boo was a key Black Music operative for the label for a decade and a half. On the wall of his private domain were pictures of Boo and Dizzy, Boo and Johnny Carson, Boo and Quincy Jones, Boo and Nancy Regan, Boo and The Police, Boo and… His life was a living example of the places Black Music could take you, and he was a living link from the independent mom and pop days, AM radio, and the chitlin circuit to the corporate-backed Black Pop that was heard on stereo FM. Over the thirty plus years that I knew Boo, I found myself in that office, as often as my time would allow, soaking up the knowledge of the promotion man’s craft that would eventually lead to a shot and success as an A&R man.

Boo’s story began when he was a teenager. During the Eisenhower administration, there’d been some political unrest and unease in Turkey, and the great Harlem political don, and US Congressman, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., arranged through the US State Department to have Dizzy play the region as a goodwill ambassador. Dizzy agreed to go and brought Quincy Jones as the band’s musical director and Boo as a personal valet.

Thus began the career of one of the most storied behind the scenes string pullers in the history of Black Music. In different stops along the way, Frazier eventually worked as an independent operative, owned his own label and worked for A&M, the legendary diskery founded by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. Frazier was involved in the careers of The Beatles, Black Ivory, The Brothers Johnson, Jeffrey Osborne, Atlantic Starr, L.T.D., Janet Jackson, The Police and yours truly. I was just one of the many executives groomed and guided by Boo. My old friend Ed Eckstine, the first Black president of one of the US major labels was another. Please find below Ed’s tribute to our mutual friend and mentor. For now, I’ll just leave it to one of the pros.

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DIZZY & QUINCY

In the summer of 1974, Quincy Jones hired me to work for his budding production company in an untitled capacity, “just find shit that needs to be done, if you do it wrong, remember what you did wrong and don’t do it again,” he said. Those were my initial marching orders and I carried them out well (at least I thought so for the better portion of 10 years.) He had just released his album “Body Heat” and it became quickly apparent that he needed me to interface with the various departments of his distributor, A&M Records, carry the word of his new musical and entrepreneurial direction to the media, (black press in particular) and interface with Black Radio, trumpeting the laurels of “Body Heat” and all things “Q”.

I was working for him less than a week when he handed me a phone number and said, “Call this man, he will teach you every thing you need to know.” A truly Herculean task considering my inexperience and shortcomings. That man was Marion “Boo” Frazier, cousin to Dizzy Gillespie, ace partner to Quincy, Griot, and Yoda-like figure when it came to matters relative to the record (particularly Black) business, and my personal Mr. Miyagi if there ever was one. 4 days ago the great Harry Coombs, the legendary promotion man who broke The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, and The Intruders for Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, posted on Facebook that he had heard that Boo wasn’t well and he needed a number to contact him. I called the insideplaya who also holds Boo close to his heart and he hit me with the number. The playa told me to call him as word was that Boo wasn’t well, but that when he reached out to him, his wife Brenda put him on the phone and Boo told him”I’m fine MF’er, what’s wrong with y’all ?!@!” Nevertheless, the playa said call him, he had asked for me, and he felt he was masking his infirmities. I said I would, but as someone who battles the demon of procrastination I told myself I would reach out to him tomorrow morning while ensconced on the couch watching football.

A couple of hours ago I read the “the news today, oh boy” in the fond remembrances of fellow record warrior Al Marks (former sales exec for A&M Records) here on FB about the passing of “The Boo-man”. I learned so much from him, about radio, retail. the juke box business, the importance of impacting a market when pushing a particular project whether I was in a town 30 minutes or 30 days. Wise, caring, insightful, funny, guiding, sweet & kind are words that only begin to describe him, with some of the most amazing stories of triumphs and defeats with a galvanizing lesson in them all.

At Quincy’s behest he was the first person that Herb Alpert, Jerry Moss, and Harold Childs hired when they decided (or were pushed) to assemble a Black Music promotion staff in 1975 and he immediately became a guru to all who were in his midst. When I first became President of Mercury Records, David Weyner, then head of the Classics and Jazz division, shared with me that he was having problems with getting exposure at Jazz and Adult Black Radio and did I have any thoughts. Just one; Boo Frazier, and he proceeded to put points on the board Jordan style much to David’s satisfaction. A saline stream of love flows from my eyes as I think of him and hope his transition was peaceful. He always signed off when we spoke with his favorite catchphrase / ‘Boo-ism’: “Back to the pro’s baby, back to the pro’s”..Sleep peacefully with those angels, I was blessed to have known you and receive your wisdom Boo. R.I.P.

Ed Eckstine

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THE INSIDEPLAYA & THE AUTHOR

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Today

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On better bookshelves today, photographer Glen E. Friedman’s coffee table book My Rules. Classic photos of Run DMC, Tony Alva, Jay Adams, LlL Cool J, Rick Rubin, Pussy Riot, Noam Chomsky and others. Also included are 21 essays by subjects in the book and an afterward from the playa. For those of you who are less inclined to read there are some really nice pictures.

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For Joe

Doug Herzog grew up 20 minutes west of Soul City and is a Soul and Funk enthusiast. We have been friends for nearly a quarter of a century. He is also a bonafide media don and a pivotal figure in the introduction of Hip Hop to a larger audience. It was during his time as the key programming figure and head of MTV that he approved, nurtured and developed the seminal Yo MTV Raps. And along with our friends Ted Demme (R.I.P.) Fab 5 Freddy and Ed Lover and Dre, he changed the course of history and culturally, set the stage for the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency. In what has been a career of note, he has been the President of Fox TV, USA Television and is now the head of both Comedy Central and Spike TV. Twenty-two years ago, while hosting Doug for lunch at New York power spot, 21, he revealed an interest and understanding to me, of my beloved jazz/funk/fusion area and spoke authoritatively and lovingly of The Crusaders. I never forgot it. Here is Doug’s tribute to the great Joe Sample, a founding member of The Crusaders who passed away this past weekend at the age of 75.

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JOE SAMPLE

In the days before shock jocks and Howard Stern, Don Imus dominated New York morning radio. “Imus In The Morning” was heard on WNBC in the New York Metropolitan area. His mix of talk, humor and characters resonated heavily in the post-Watergate era radio landscape. It would be years before he was marginalized by the success of Howard Stern, and ultimately rendered obsolete by his own doing.

But in 1974, he was the coolest thing on AM radio. The clock radio next to my bed was set to 66 “WNnnnnnnBC” in order to wake up to his show every school day. It was “water cooler” radio in those days. Even the bus driver listened.

During that period, he used a theme song coming in and out of commercials. It was a funky, slinky instrumental that immediately stuck in my head called “Put It Where You Want It”. http://open.spotify.com/track/2RVzOkiDRBDpweaTZsor41
I remember thinking it might be The Average White Band, who’s own instrumental, “Pick Up The Pieces”, was making its way to the top of the charts. (Ironically, AWB had actually recorded the song on an album never released in the US).

It took me awhile to figure out who the band playing the song was – I couldn’t exactly Shazam it back then. But it sounded like something I needed to hear more of. At the time, my interest in RnB and funk had me drifting into the realm of jazz funk and fusion.

Once I figured out it was The Crusaders I was led to a series of their mid 70’s albums that were arguably the best of the then-emerging genre.

The band originated out of Houston, Texas as The Jazz Crusaders, and ultimately migrated to LA with a shortened name and a new approach that incorporated blues, jazz and funk. Built around the estimable talents of Joe Sample, Wilton Felder, Stix Hooper, Wayne Henderson, and a rotating cast of sideman, (notably the great Larry Carlton), they built a catalogue of funky, yet sophisticated jams. You could dance to some, groove to others, or sit back and just enjoy the world class playing.

At the heart of it all was the work of keyboardist Joe Sample. His warm, soulful sound could lead the melody, fill in the spaces, or soar out front on a solo. The Crusaders epitomized the concept of the ensemble in every sense. A tight unit devoted to the groove, with room for everyone to step out, but never too far. They were melodic funky and smooth, but never with the strings that often cluttered the more esoteric CTI recordings. They played deep in the pocket but never let the funk get redundant. And with Larry Carlton on guitar, they were able to broaden their audience without resorting to the worst aspects of fusion. It was a slick LA sound, combined with Texas Roadhouse RnB that had more in common with Steely Dan than their counterparts Stuff in NY.

I had the chance to see them on a great bill at The Palladium in NYC in May 1977 supported by Les McCann and The Brecker Brothers. It was a hot sweaty night that may have been a peak period for pure jazz funk. Carlton had recently left the band, and Sample seemed to be the clear leader. They sold lots of records, concert tickets and had the kind of crossover success other bands could only dream of. They all became in demand session, guys. Most notably, Joe who sat in on sessions with everyone from; BB King to Marvin Gaye to Eric Clapton. He played a bit on the classic rock/jazz funk Steely Dan masterpiece “Aja” as well. He also played on one of my favorite records, the under-appreciated “Art of Tea”, the debut album by Michael Franks. Most of the Crusaders joined him on this disc where jazz funk met soft rock (then called “Mellow music”). I promise you it sounds better than I described it.

It all culminated in 1979 with the band’s huge crossover smash “Street Life”. That success led to Joe’s “Carmel” solo disc. This may have been the first true shot fired out of the “smooth jazz” cannon. My dad who was 40 something at the time was courting the woman who would be his future wife, listened to it while they sipped Chardonnay together in Newport Beach. This may have been the first indication it wasn’t for me.

Over time, many artists gravitated toward the radio-friendly smooth jazz while others tried the disco route, and fusion just collapsed under its own ponderous weight. Joe and The Crusaders rode the wave of “Street Life” until the whole thing ran out of steam. But they remain staples of smooth jazz radio to this day and have been oft-sampled by various Hip Hop artists. But for me, the legacy of Joe Sample lies mostly in those mid/late 70’s recording where he and the band’s signature style became one the enduring sounds of the era.

Doug Herzog

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THE AUTHOR

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