Classic Soul Music

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

PARIS, PT. 2: THE ONE WAY CAFE


(Photo, courtesy Isabelle Coeurdevey)

As I mentioned in Part 1 of the Paris blog, this was my first visit to the city in over thirty years and it has changed. Most notable difference: the sizeable North African and West African communities (immigrants from Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon and other countries that were previously colonized by the French) which have added a truly international flavor and style to what was already a city with a global flair. Personally, I love such diversity, found with much more frequency in European cities than in American equivalents (outside of New York and Miami and to some extent Los Angeles) so I felt instantly 'at home.' As detailed in Part 1, my first few hours were spent enjoying Leee John's show at The New Morning club. The next morning, I spent some more time in the company of Mr. John as we conducted our first-ever on camera in depth interview, covering such subjects as artistic interpretation (a subject about which I could truly wax lyrical!), his early influences (which surprisingly included such legends as Nat King Cole, whose music was frequently heard in the John household), his choice to make a jazz album as his first solo venture and more. We're both hopeful that the footage can and will be used in a future UK or French television documentary...

Then it was off to a delightful lunch with Ralph Tee of Expansion Records (who had journeyed to Paris for our Soul Music.com event) chatting about the UK soul music market and the world of soul music in general. In a flurry of activity - which included a lengthy wait for a taxi at Gare De L'Est - Ralph and I, in the company of Frederic Adrian's girlfriend Isabelle Coeurdevey (another devoted soul music afficianado) headed off to One Way Cafe in the Saint-Ouens district of Paris, best known for its large flea market. Chrissy, the owner of the club (usually a venue for live music, particularly blues) had graciously opened it for our use for the evening - so many thanks to her for doing so.

A lively Q&A session followed in which I got to reminisce and share about different events from my past forty years living and working in the world of soul music. I was struck by the knowledge and dedication that French fans of this music displayed, akin to the devotion that my fellow Brits have shown towards R&B for decades now. It is refreshing indeed and I thoroughly enjoyed speaking about my activities as a reissue producer, my memories of 'discovering' R&B and more. Leee John and friends joined us and we were able to have a lively conversation on matters soulful before I headed off with Frederic (who had spent time putting the event together), Isabelle, another of our Soul Music.com dedicated customers Guy (who had driven almost three hours to attend the event) and friends into the Paris night to fulfill one of my personal wishes - to visit the great Sacre Coeur church, a place I had visited in my youth. The view from the steps is as spectacular as ever and I was reminded of how magical Paris can be. Who knows, if I had stayed in the city longer, I just might have fallen in love - as I had done as a young school boy during my first trip to France! But that's another story, one best left for whenever I write my memoirs!

Breakfast with Frederic, Isabelle and Guy was spent 'speaking soul' and I loved listening to The Kelly Brothers while sharing about some of the Atlantic-related projects I plan to work on in 2007 and hearing Frederic share his own vision for an international soul music convention in France, an idea I fully endorse. There really is nothing like sharing one's appreciation of this great music with folks of like mind and the idea of having such an event sparks the imagination. Indeed, we even speculated that the highpoint might be performances by Sam Dees (an obvious musical hero of Frederic's), Bettye Lavette and others! Certainly, my own plans to spend more time in the U.K. could lead to involvement with such a venture...so stay tuned!

Soon it was time to head back to the airport and back to the U.K. where I was able to connect with a couple of people - like dj Brian Goddard who used to spin music at the very first club I ever attended in London, the long gone Le Deuce niterie on D'Arblay Street in Soho. Oh, the memories, the memories! It remains to say a big thanks to all who made my trip so worthwhile including my sister Sylvia, Ralph Tee, Paul Clifford, Bob Killbourn of Blues & Soul, Junior Giscombe, Leon and Carol Ware, Leee John and co., Frederic Adrian and Isabelle Coeurdevey, Guy H., Vernal Scott and Michael of Soul Music.com for holding down the fort while I experienced my internationality!

Always soulfully yours,

David

Monday, October 30, 2006

PARIS PT. 1: LEEE JOHN AT THE NEW MORNING


I hadn't set foot in Paris in over thirty years, I always remembered how much I enjoyed being in the city. Spurred on by the desire to meet some of the ever-growing number of French customers we have at Soul Music.com, I had arranged with Frederic Adrian - who hosts a Yahoo message board for dedicated French soul music lovers - to have a little get-together on Friday, October 20.

After arriving in the UK the week before, I had reached out to my longtime friend Leee John ( known to most folks as the leader of Imagination, the pop/soul/dance unit that achieved tremendous international popularity in the '80s) only to discover that he would be performing on October 19 at The New Morning, one of the most prestigious jazz clubs in Paris so I knew I couldn't miss it!

I had known Leee since some years before Imagination was created: while still in school, he and his friend Russell had perusaded me to interview them for my column in the UK magazine "Blues & Soul" for their first-ever record! Over the years, we've stayed in touch on a consistent basis, drawn by our mutual love for soul music: I can vividly recall listening to all manner of tunes at Leee's house during different visits to the UK from Diana Ross' "Pieces Of Ice" (a personal favorite) to The Jones Girls' "You're Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else"! Late last year, Leee had informed me that he had made a jazz record in France. It was something of a departure: logically, people in the music biz had expected that a first solo record from the multi-talented singer/songwriter and producer would be an R&B/soul album. But given his longtime love for jazz, Leee - always known for being 'bold' in career choices he's made - chose a different path, opting for reinterpreting classics such as Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" (an emotional tour-de-force for any singer), "Embraceable You" and "Someone To Watch Over Me" and recording new original material such as "Thin Line," "Jazzamatazz" and "Flamingo Blue." Once I heard the album, I had been suitably impressed but not entirely surprised: Leee's pure love for singing had always been evident to me from our early conversations about music and artists of note that we both loved.

After a little delay at Charles de Gaulle airport while I changed Euros so I could board the train to Gare Du Nord, I finally arrived in the city to be greeted by Frederic. Struggling a little with a suitcase with a broken handle (not fun!), we finally made it to The New Morning - a venue which has hosted many of the great names in jazz - just in time for Leee's show; both Frederic and I agreed that the brisk walk to the venue had been more than worthwhile...

At The New Morning, accompanied by a more-than-able quartet, Leee John delivered a show worthy of the surroundings bringing spontaneity, subtlety, soul and energy to the material from "Feel My Soul" and throwing in some extra material that delighted the audience. A swing tune, the original "Flamingo Blue" was the perfect set opener followed in short order by two more upbeat John originals, "U Never Know" and "Sensuality." It could be tough performing original tunes when an audience isn't completely familiar with the material: thanks to several trips to France where the album was recorded, the enthusiastic response from the packed house suggested that Leee's CD has had an impact for each song was greeted with a sense of recognition. Of course, it doesn't hurt when standards such as "Embraceable You" are thrown into the mix and when Leee opted to include a jazzy version of the Imagination classic "Body Talk," the audience was enraptured. Undoubtedly, highlights from the first half of the show were a poignant, intimate version of "Small World" (which I had known via Nancy Wilson but is in fact a Stephen Sondheim-penned tune from the Broadway musical "Gypsy") and Leee's French language version of "Now Is The Time (C'est Le Moment)," a key track on "Feel My Soul".

Part two of the show included more material from the CD which has been well-received in France in particular, garnering some critical acclaim in the UK where folks are still apparently 'adjusting' to Leee's choice to sing jazz: whenever an artist makes changes in musical direction, it sometimes takes a while for the music industry to 'catch up'! Starting the second half of his stellar performance at The New Morning, Leee chose "Strange Fruit," the stark and emotionally-riveting Billie Holiday song referencing the inhumane and abhorent activities associated with America's deep South as recently as fifty years ago. It's a tough song to perform: I can recall seeing the late Nina Simone offer a chilling rendition during a Dutch television taping in 1971, leaving the audience spellbound and silent. Fortunately, Leee chose to deliver the song with appropriate nuance and emotion.

Lady Day's songbook was revisited with a spirited reading of "God Bless The Child" but without a doubt, the highlights from the second segment of the show were a groove-flavored version of another Imagination classic, "Just An Illusion," the original "Feel My Spirit" (from "Feel My Soul") and an audience participation tune, "The Truth" which Leee has yet to record. Of course, knowing Leee personally for as long as I have, I was rooting for him; that said, an audience's response says it all and this Parisian club's patrons were begging for more! My colleague Frederic Adrian, a die-hard soul music connoisseur, expressed his immediate admiration for Leee's performance, surprised at the comfort level Leee felt with material with which he has not generally been associated through his two-plus decades in the music industry.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed watching an artist who I've known literally since his teens giving himself full permission to express his genuine passion for jazz-flavored material. Leee delivered the songs with the innate sense of someone who appreciates lyrics, understands the art of interpretation and is unafraid to express himself with a real passion for music. Big props too to the musicians who accompanied him, providing the perfect cushion for an evening of truly good vibes.

After the show, congrats were in order and I headed off with Leee and co. for some Indian/Pakistani food... Part 2 of my adventures in Paris to follow tomorrow!

Friday, October 27, 2006

TRAINS AND PLANES! PT. ONE - LONDON: JUNIOR, LEON WARE and more


Hopefully, Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Hal David will all excuse the modified version of the title of this blog using their classic song ("Trains And Boats And Planes")! Just back from a hectic two weeks in Europe, visiting family, friends and making the business rounds.

Even though it is my birthplace, London continues to amaze me in terms of its' energy and pulse. It is of course far more of an international city than it was when I was growing up there in the '60s and '70s, no doubt the result of the connection with the European Union. The diversity is something I appreciate and enjoy since L.A. continues to be like a backwater in terms of having a real international flavor or presence. I could write a whole blog on that subject!

Of course, as the 'Brit Ambassador Of Soul,' returning home is particularly enjoyable since I connect with my roots and once again become aware of the love, passion and enthusiasm that my fellow Brits show for traditional R&B and soul music. After a few days of adjusting, I spent most of Thursday (October 12) catching up with soul peeps. Started out with meeting "Soul Guru" (of MySpace fame), Paul whose father was the first guy in the UK to run a fan club for the late, great Otis Redding. For some reason, I hadn't made that connection when he and I had been exchanging e-mails but when presented with copies of '60s magazines for which I had done my first-ever writing (a piece on Nina Simone in the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society mag, "Hitsville USA"), I instantly remembered his Dad, Cliff Clifford and all the other R&B fan club heads who had been part of the inner circle of UK soul music lovers around 1965/66. Oh the memories...and seeing the magazines brought back lots of 'em, fond reminiscences of how us die-hard R&B-heads had thrilled at records by Gladys Knight & The Pips ("Giving Up"), Betty Lavette ("Let Me Down Easy") and Garnet Mimms ("Cry Baby") among others.

Paul and I spent time discussing those days as well as his own passion for '70s and '80s soul music before heading off to the wilds of Hayes, Middlesex for me to meet up with my good friend Ralph Tee (of Expansion Records). Expansion has done a stellar job in making available some amazing titles in the past few years - either in reissuing long-sought-after albums of the '70s and '80s (like the recent J.R. Bailey and James 'D-Train' Williams and also in conjunction with Soul Brother Records - such as titles by Jean Terrell and Leroy Hutson among others) or in releasing new product by respected names such as Billy Griffin, James Day and Leon Ware (about whom more to follow).

After lunch at a local pub, armed with some tasty promos of recent Expansion CDs, I was off into territories unknown - specifically a place called Birkbeck near East Croydon! The journey involved trains and trams... and I can't remember the last time I rode a tram! The purpose? To catch up with my old friend Junior Giscombe, he of "Mama Used To Say" and "Too Late" fame, now firmly ensonced as a radio d.j. at Solar Radio, a great station that plays everything from Miles Davis to Johnny Ace to Grover Washington Jr. to rare and deep soul. Junior has a fine new CD out ("Oceans") which I'll be adding to the website (www.soulmusic.com) very shortly.

We had agreed to go 'live' to chat about old times, when we first met back in the late '70s/early '80s through a mutual friend Paul Morgan and I had hooked up with Junior when he was in New York securing his first record deal, through going to a show that featured Larry Graham and a certain artist by the name of Luther Vandross, starting to make a name for himself back in '81! We also talked about my own musical ventures and Junior played a track from my CD "Reinvention," my version of the Donny Hathaway classic "Tryin' Times" which seems as relevant now as it was when Donny first did it in 1970. It was a wonderful hour after which we went out to dinner to continue our dialog on the current conditions of the music industry for soul music artists (not such a pretty picture unless you take the indie route which Junior has sensibly done) and the ongoing love affair that British soul fans still have with the music.

A few days later - Saturday night to be precise - at the invitation of Ralph Tee, I was at London's famed Jazz Cafe for the third time in the last year or so. In 2005, I saw Maysa at the venue, earlier this year, Incognito. On this occasion, I was to witness an amazing performance by the venerable and esteemed Leon Ware. Now, as an L.A. resident, I've seen Leon a few times at different venues like the Temple Bar. But...I had never seen Leon in such rare form! After the show, he and I and his wife Carol talked about the adoration that European music lovers express for his work and there's no doubt that the energy that Leon got from the crowded house only pushed him to further musical heights during the show.

With an excellent UK band on hand, Leon naturally covered all the songs he's written for others that have made him such a fixture on the music scene for three decades, songs like "If I Ever Lose This Heaven," "Inside My Love" and of course, the classics made famous by Marvin Gaye such as "I Want You," "After The Dance" and "Come Live With Me Angel." But equally, if not more impressive were the Ware recordings such as "Why I Came To California" and "Rockin' You Eternally" which the audience knew word for word!!! Hearing a London crowd sing along with Leon on "California" was mind-blowing! I confess that while I had some awarness of the song, I wasn't familiar with it the way my fellow Brits were and clearly it's a real anthem among UK soul peeps who appreciated Leon's undeniable soulfulness particularly evident on the touching ballad "Everlast," written with James Ingram. Unbelieveable the way the audience reacted to his entire show and naturally Leon was required to return for a much-deserved encore. As he pointed out afterwards, coming to Europe isn't about making big bucks, it's about letting the audiences know how much he appreciates their support for his music and there's no question that it is a real mutual love affair. Cool to learn also from Carol that Leon is on the verge of signing a new record deal that will make his music even more widely available...stay tuned!

The rest of my UK trip was spent with family and friends other than an excellent meeting with Rick Conrad of Warner Music which will result in some amazing reissues in the coming year, anthologies and discs that will make soul fans on both sides of the Atlantic truly happy! A busy busy guy, Rick is committed to giving R&B folks real gems from the Warner, Elektra and Atlantic catalogs - witness compilations like the "You Better Believe It" and "After Hours" projects. 2007 is going to be a great year for soul music reissues if folks like Rick have anything to do with it...

I headed off on Thursday morning (October 19) from my sister's lovely home in Erith, just outside London, for my first trip to Paris in three decades...and all will be revealed in Part Two of this blog tomorrow...

Soulfully yours,

David

Saturday, September 23, 2006

SHARON JONES - HELLA SHOW!

If you were lucky enough (!) to come in the '60s or '70s, you know all about those truly funky soul bands! We're talkin' Dyke & The Blazers, Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band, The Meters and of course James Brown at his funkiest... Well, tis a dyin' art but thankfully, we got Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings...hallelujah!

If you don't know who Sharon is, well...she's a 5' nothin' dynamic super-energetic traditional R&B and soul sista and the Dap Kings are a sho' nuff no-stuff funk band that is the perfect match for Sharon's girtty, raw get-you-in-the-gut vocals. This girl don't play...and she had everyone at the Henry Fonda Theater beggin' for mo'... Trip is most of the crowd was under 40 and white...and most of them don't know Dyke & The Blazers and The Meters from nothin' but it's cool, cool, cool because Sharon and co. are keeping the tradition ALIVE. They don't have no major record deal but through word of mouth and two albums on their own Daptone label, they've been building it up...till it's solid...as a rock!

I first saw Sharon & The Dap Kings at a small club in Cleveland last year when I was there for a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame event...and they so kicked ass that when my Soul Music.com colleague Michael told me the band was playing in L.A., I had to go...

It was Michael's first experience of Sharon & co. and like the packed house, he loved watching Sharon strut her stuff, doing new songs from the next album (due in March 2007) and from the group's two current CDs... For good measure, she also throws in dance moves from the '60s and I don't know anyone else who you will see do the Funky Chicken, The Boogaloo and The Tighten Up on any stage anywhere these days!

They do have a MySpace page - http://www.myspace.com/dapkings - so you can hear the music for yourself - and we will be adding their CDs to Soul Music.com soon.... If they're coming to your town and you really wanna have a funky good time, check 'em out...
See ya...
Soulfully yours
David, www.soulmusic.com
http://www.myspace.com/soulmusichome

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I GOTTA GIVE IT UP! NATALIE COLE KICKS ASS....


Let me make it simple: what a difference a year makes! The Hollywood Bowl, 2005, a show that produced mixed responses from yours truly. No need to revisit any of that: The Viper Room, Los Angeles, 2006: a non-stop soulful, energetic and totally real performance that I wouldn't have missed for anything! With a little prompting from my Soul Music.com colleague Michael, who saw the show on Tuesday (Sept 12), I headed to one of the clubs on Sunset Strip usually known for rock and alternative bands. The venue probably holds all of 100 people and when we're talking about seeing a performer 'up close,' we mean 'up close' in the way that many an R&B performer of the '60s would recall when they did shows in what used to be called the 'chitlin' circuit'.

The Viper Room ain't part of the chitlin' circuit and as one patron noted, 'I've never seen so many 'straight' people here!' referring to the older age group and its attire (no cut-off jeans, spiked hair, etc. which might be the norm at this Sunset Blvd spot). But...the place was filled to capacity with folks who love them some Natalie Cole. And, the diva delivered!

The focus was on her new album "Leavin'" which at first blush seems like an interesting mix, with tunes penned by Randy Newman, Fiona Apple, Shelby Lynne, Neil Young and others whose music isn't normally associated with Ms. Cole, who - it would be true to say - has always had a penchant for rocking out: her 'Live!' album from the '70s, shamefully NOT available on CD, includes The Beatles' "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and Doris Day/Sly Stone's "Que Sera Sera" and have been witnessing Natalie in action since 1975, I can testify that she loves to stretch the musical boundaries!

I hadn't yet heard the album when I went to the show so seeing Natalie preview the material last night was a particular enticement for me to take my butt down to the Viper Room. And am I glad I did! While I am not familiar with some of the songs (like the Fiona Apple tune and the Neil Young classic "Old Man" - sorry, I never was a rocker myself!), I was soon drawn in. With a funky-ass band and two bad-ass background singers, Natalie grooved and grooved, sweated and gave it up with the kind of energy and excitement that echoed her mid-'70s shows when she was experiencing a non-stop run of R&B/pop hits.

Particular highlights from the new album (due out September 26 and a definite addition at Soul Music.com that week: a sho-nuff groovy cover of the late Ronnie Dyson's "The More You Do It (The More I Like It Done To Me"), penned as Natalie noted by Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy, the two writer-producers responsible for all those Cole Capitol classics; the new album's title track, a Shelby Lynne composition that has a 'Southern soul' feel to it; and an original composition, "5 Minutes Away," written by Natalie and producer Dallas Austin which was an infectious, memorable highlight of the night (complete with audience participation) that has all the makings of a hit single. I was surprised at how much I also enjoyed Natalie's cover of Aretha's classic "Daydreaming": as a Franklin purist, I seldom like renditions of her timeless tunes but, echoing the words of Mr. Gaye, I gotta give it up - Natalie and co. put a nice groove behind it that would make Ms. Queen Of Soul proud.

While not on the album, her stunning reading of Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" (a song I am most familiar with via Nina Simone) with Natalie accompanying herself at the piano (something she may want to consider for an entire future album project since it allows a creative freedom that artists like Simone, Laura Nyro, Roberta Flack and Zulema all experiened) was an undeniable highlight of a great night.

Respecting the desire of her enthusiastic audience to hear some Cole staples, Natalie obliged with a fiery "Annie Mae," a poignant "Inseparable" and a truth-tellin'-no-joke "I'm Catching Hell" and while I've never been able to personally endorse the sentiments in the lyric (paraphrased as 'stay with a fool until someone better comes along' - hell to the no, if it ain't working, kick 'em to the curb, baby, that's what this Aquarian says!) , Natalie tore it up, investing it with the kind of fervor and intensity that made her one of the most dynamic performers of the '70s and early '80s. For good measure, encores were "Pink Cadillac" and the inevitable toe-tapper "This Will Be," which still sounds hella-good!

I was blown away by the soulful groove that Natalie's band and singers created with and for her and there is NO doubt that this was one of the best shows I've seen in a long, long time. While some may still yearn for those superb jazz stylings Natalie gave us during her Elektra years, this is the kinda stuff that first put her on the musical map and while some music buyers may have to 'adjust' to Natalie singing Sting and co. on her new album, I can't wait to hear it after seeing this stomp-down performance.

Oh...and karma being a 'mother,' as I was leaving the venue, I bumped right into Natalie herself with whom I have not spoken for a year since our last encounter at The Hollywood Bowl. For inquiring minds, we hugged, we laughed and I told her I genuinely honestly loved the show; and she in return thanked me for being there with real no-kidding sincerity (and trust me, I know the difference between sincerity and bullshit - as Aquarians, both Ms. Cole and I know when someone is blowin' smoke up our respective asses!)

Get the album when it comes out; if you're in L.A., go see the last night tonight (Thursday September 14)... And I'm just grinning cause I truly did get to give it up for Ms. NC...and I love to give it up (more on that another day!!!)...

Soulfully, David N.

Monday, October 24, 2005

ARETHA ANOINTING....











(Photo credit: Donna Terek / The Detroit News)

I admit this entry is way way overdue but the demands of a busy website (http://www.soulmusic.com/) sometimes makes blogging a more infrequent task than I'd like. So here's the bottom line: for the second year in a row, the undisputed Queen Of Soul took to the road in her famous bus and headed for California for a week's worth of shows. And what a week it was!

Now before I wax lyrical - which I am surely going to do - you should know that I've been communicating with Aretha Franklin since December of 1966...

Back then, I was a teenager working in a record store in London and our Christmas bonus was that we could call anyone in the U.S.A. Now remember, we're talking '66 when you couldn't just pick up the phone and dial an overseas number from London! No, you had to go through an operator and it cost plenty money back then! I had retrieved the number for Aretha's then-husband/manager Ted White from the bottom of a Columbia Records promotional photo and after the operator connected us, I timidly asked Mr. White if I could speak with Aretha Franklin. To this very day, I remember him calling out, 'Aretha, phone...someone calling from England!" Little did I know that a then-24 year-old Aretha had never stepped outside the continental U.S., let alone spoken with anyone in Britain! She was happy to hear from one of her English fans and quick to share that she had just signed with Atlantic Records and was preparing for her first sessions for the label. Neither she nor I had any inkling of what would follow, that she would go from being known only by a select number of music buyers to achieving international stardom and iconic status...

So, Aretha and I go back, way back - thus going to see each of her four shows (two in L.A., one in San Diego and a last night in Santa Barbara) was a rare treat. I didn' t take meticulous notes but I can say this: Aretha was in the best form I've seen her in years. She did almost everything any Franklin admirer would want to hear: on the first night, we got a stunning reading of "Ain't No Way" which really took me back to the kind of impassioned vocals that made her such an important musical figure in the '60s. We got "Until You Come Back To Me." We got "Something He Can Feel," on which she demonstrated a little sass! And, two non-Franklin items: a Latin-flavored version of Angela Bofill's classic "Angel Of The Night" (and yes, Aretha sang in Spanish!) and Bobby Darin's "Beyond The Sea," a song Aretha later revealed was one of her all-time favorites. I took my good friend, soul singer par excellence Thelma Jones with me and of course, for those who know, it was Thelma who first recorded "The House That Jack Built" which Aretha turned into a hit of her own some months later back in '68. Thelma and I were both transported back in time by Aretha's performance (which ended with a triumphant "Greatest Love Of All"): she was truly in her element, expressing herself with the kind of emotion that first had her crowned 'Queen Of Soul' back in the '60s.

The next night was, if anything, even more special. Smokey Robinson was in the audience and Aretha acknowledged his presence, noting that the two had gone to school in Detroit when she was eight and he was nine! What none of us - including the woman herself - could have expected was how moved she was at having her longtime friend right there bearing witness to what turned into an amazing performance. After a 'deep' reading of "Precious Memories" from the "Amazing Grace" album, Aretha stopped and after choosing to dedicate it to Smokey, she spontaneously began singing "Never Let Me Go," the Johnny Ace song she recorded back in '67 on my personal favorite Franklin album, "Aretha Arrives." Midway through the second verse, Aretha was overcome with emotion and began to cry. She covered her face for a few seconds before continuing with the song. It was one of the most genuine moments I have ever seen on a stage: pure unadulterated real feeling. To a standing ovation, Aretha moved to the piano to deliver a joyous "Spirit In The Dark," preceeding it with just a few words, "Sometimes," she paused, "you just get so 'full.'" Accompanying herself on keyboards one more time, we got a gorgeous "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and a fitting conclusion with "If You Believe" from 'The Wiz."

Later that evening, I got to let Aretha know how much she had moved me and she replied, "Well, I certainly didn't expect to be crying this evening." A natural woman, indeed, and when I ventured to San Diego to see her at the wonderfully intimate outdoors venue Humphreys By The Sea, it was more Franklin magic. After an excellent set by local San Diegan Earl Thomas, we were treated to a relaxed and happy set from Aretha with a particularly special moment when jazz great James Moody joined her onstage to sing his classic "Moody's Mood For Love," a song Aretha herself recorded for her "Hey Now Hey" '70s Quincy Jones-produced album. Moody invited Aretha to sing at the end of the song but for the most part, she watched in awe as the elder statesman deftly wove his way through the tune's melody, much to the delight of one and all. A one-time-only occasion that seemed to give Aretha even more fuel for turning in another great performance.

Saturday night, me, my friend Nick and Aretha's former personal publicist Barbara Shelley headed off to Santa Barbara for the final night of Aretha's week-long sojourn in Southern California. It was, apparently, her first time in the fabulously rich city (home to Oprah and other multi-millionaires) and so longtime residents who had never seen Aretha showed up in droves for the show. Once again, Aretha delivered: whether offering stomp-down versions of "Think" or "Natural Woman," she sounded better than ever and when she dedicated "Angel" to Barbara and I, I lost it! There have only been maybe one or two times in my entire career in the music biz that I've had anyone 'call me out' with such a dedication and it was simply wonderful. Now, the skeptics among you will say that this entire blog's flavor stems from that one dedication - and you're probably right! But - just for a touch of unbiased opinion - know that each of the folks I took to the Aretha shows that week (Thelma, Michael, Louis and Nick) all had the experience of fulfillment and satisfaction from seeing her onstage.

As a Franklin-o-phile from back in the day, I can say that there have been some performances over the years that were somewhat lackluster, when Aretha seemed to be 'going through the motions'. But not this week in Southern Cali. It didn't hurt that she was surrounded by some great peeps like longtime musical director H.B. Barnum, her more-than-able musician-and-artist in his own right and son Teddy and cousin Brenda providing fabulous backgrounds (and some truly high notes on "Ain't No Way"). Aretha looked good (having shed a few pounds), she sounded great and most important of all, she seemed genuinely pleased to be back on the West C9ast and happy with the audience's responses (prompting her even to take some photos of the crowds from the stage). We didn't get to spend much time together but I did get a chance to give Aretha CDs by two of her childhood musical inspirations, the late Johnny Ace and the late Big Maybelle and she was truly grateful.

And it seems that spirit of contentment she demonstrated during her week-long trip spilled over: when she returned to her home in Michigan, Aretha hosted a two-night dinner for displaced New Orleans folks currently residing in Detroit as well as providing funds for them to get necessities in a shopping spree at a local store. "There's no way I'm going to let these people be in Detroit and not show them some Detroit and Aretha hospitality with a good time and great food," she told "The Detroit News" on October 22. When all's said and done, she is after all a do-right woman and while some entertainers may come and go out of my life - woth more frequency in recent times than ever - Aretha's sho' nuff still a do-right woman with me. As I've been prone to say at least once a day since witnessing those Franklin shows, hallelujah! Can't wait to see her once again when I go to the Sam Cooke tribute in Cleveland November 5/6.
(Details at: http://www.pluggedincleveland.com/events/8752/tenth-annual-american-music-masters-ser.html) - when Aretha will be performing on two nights (in a Main Tribute and then a Gospel Tribute to the late great Sam Cooke.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

TAKING THE HIGH ROAD... THE 'NO MO' MR. NICE GUY' BLOG NOW DELETED

I had Saturday morning breakfast with my good friend Eric Burns and I shared with him about what happened this week with my 'infamous' blogs. What I realized is that some of the comments I made in the blogs (particularly re: Chaka Khan and Natalie Cole) were very personal and if I have 'issues' with the folks concerned, I should take them up with them directly. While I stand by comments I made about the shows I saw, I do see that there was a constructive way to say what I felt; that my personal feelings should not get in the way of giving objective viewpoints on shows I've seen. I have always prided myself on 'taking the high road' and I see that for once, I did not - and I regret that. I realize from the degree of venom that was spewed out at me through the message boards of both artists that I only created more 'negative' energy - and I forgot how that breeds even more of the same. Thus, the blogs I wrote on the shows I reviewed have been deleted. If anyone wants to respond to my having remoed them, feel free to holler back.

And tonight, I'm off to see ARETHA FRANKLIN for a second night in a row: a full report to follow but for starters, know that she sang her feet off last night in L.A. at The Universal Amphitheater! "Until You Come Back To Me," "Share Your Love With Me," "Something He Can Feel," "Ain't No Way" and Angela Bofill's "Angel Of The Night" (brilliant!).... More to follow...