Where has the time gone? Pretty soon this blog will be sneaking cigarettes and looking at girly magazines. I never expected it to survive this long.
Sometime around the 7th of July, 2008, I decided to start Flabbergasted Vibes. It didn’t really have much of a master plan or identity at the time, as I’ve recounted here on the ABOUT page of our new home – which my metrics tells me has only been visited by a handful of people, so take a moment to read it if you’re interested.
According to my records, the first post commemorated the second anniversary of the death of surrealist poet and pop-star-for-a-minute, Roger “Syd” Barrett (shown above in his London flat), who has now been deceased for ten years after walking away from the spotlight in 1974. Other posts from the first week or so of existence included records by Bridget St. John, the first ‘Black Rio’ compilation, a Joe Gibbs compilation, The Rail Band, Joyce, and Cassiano. Most or all of those are set to “invisible” now because they don’t really fit with the style of presentation that has developed here. After a while, I also started up the under-nourished ‘Flabbergasted Folk’ blog where I could post about acoustic music. I’ve had several requests to revive that idea but maintaining two music blogs isn’t really feasible for me. Maybe I’ll just start posting the occasional pastoral folk record here, as long as it has some vibes to it.
I don’t really have a proper anniversary / birthday post in terms of highlighting a particular record today, so how about I just post this video of David Bowie covering Syd Barrett, in what was probably the most interesting track on his ‘Pinups’ record:
It’s missing some of the spontaneity and fun of the original, but it’s still pretty neat. I remember reading somewhere that Bowie claimed Barrett was the first pop singer he had heard who didn’t try to sound American, or at least try to make themselves less English. Apparently this was a huge revelation to him, giving him the inspiration to sing in his natural voice. Fellow cosmic glam-rocker Marc Bolan reportedly used to hang around the office of Floyd’s management, chatting up the secretary, just for a chance to catch Barrett in the hallway and soak up some of his mojo. It’s unfortunate that the pressures of sudden fame, a Swinging London lifestyle, and the stigma of what was most certainly a congenital mental health issue (schizophrenia’s favorite victims are males in their 20s) would cut his musical career short, but I’m glad for the handful of records he left behind. A visual artist before he turned to music, he still continued to paint after his “early retirement”, and occasionally burned his canvasses in the garden.
So here’s to perseverance in the face of obscurity, and with luck there may even be a 9th and 10th birthday for this blog. Thanks to the small but loyal readership for keeping me engaged.
The year Purple Rain came out, my family had just moved across the country, north to south. I was nine years old. After the seemingly unstoppable succession of hit songs from that record seemed to take over the world, I bought the cassette with my allowance money. As soon as I had more saved up, I bought 1999 too. In our basement, we had a blacklight and strobe light, the kind you would buy from Spencer’s Gifts. I used to play air guitar to Purple Rain blasting from start to finish several times a week, with this low-budget stage lighting set up for ambiance. My older brother Tony caught me doing it once and laughed himself silly. He also gave me shit for being so into Prince. Tony was a metalhead but also liked his fair share of pop. Like the rest of the sane universe, we were both crazy for MJ’s “Thriller” which came out a year earlier. But he wasn’t feeling Prince and mocked me for it, at the beginning. Maybe it was Prince’s Elizabethan sartorial choices that put him off, but that would be ironic coming from a guy devoted to Motley Crue. Perhaps it was the androgyny, which on the surface also seems ironic since one of the most common man-in-the-street disparagements of metal (especially glam metal) was the “the guys all look like chicks.” Maybe the difference was that in that otherwise hyper-masculine music, the eyeliner, mascara, and hairspray were played for theatrical effect and shock value. Prince was coming from somewhere else, maybe a whole other dimension, combining this joyful sense of mischief with an unironic seriousnes. For my part, I hadn’t even hit puberty yet and didn’t understand half of what he was singing about, but it didn’t stop me from thinking these were the coolest sounds I’d heard anyone make.
A few years later I caught Tony listening to Sign O’ The Times in his bedroom. He had apparently seen the light. Nowadays, I would have rightfully ripped into him for giving me such a hard time before. But he was my big brother. I did say something about it, I don’t recall exactly what. All I remember about his response was that he mumbled something about Sheila E. being a great drummer and then changed the subject. As we grew older and our tastes diverged further and further apart, Prince became one of the handful of artists we could agree on, for the short time we had left together. I remember he bought the soundtrack to Batman before I had a chance, so I made a copy of it. I now have his copy, and even the original cardboard “long-box” it came in, which he saved.
Those records were like bridges between people and ideas and time periods, gateway drugs to worlds of undiscovered music. In my 5th and 6th grade classes, I bonded with the only Indian kid in my school, who also lived in my neighborhood, over Prince. Listening to tapes in his room, I think he introduced me to Midnight Star’s “No Parking On the Dance Floor” and probably some other music I’m forgetting. I started a new school in the 7th grade and was having a hard time with it, in part because I didn’t know anybody there. One of the only pleasant memories I have of that year was a party thrown at a rich kid’s house, who I didn’t particularly like because he used to tease me pretty bad. I didn’t have the right kind of basketball shoes, or my clothes weren’t nice enough, or whatever. I thought he was a preppy asshole. But at his party – which I suspected I was invited to only because his parents made him invite everyone in our class – I remember the music being changed at some point to 1999, and actually having a friendly conversation with this kid while the song D.M.S.R. played in the background. We had something in common, apparently. He stopped teasing me after that night and I guess I thought of him as a bit less of an asshole, but still a preppie.
When “Around The World In A Day” came out, I bought it on vinyl instead of cassette, with money from my job delivering newspapers in America’s favorite contravention of child labor laws. My mind was blown all over again. I swear it felt like Prince had been prowling around in my cerebellum, as that album pushed the psychedelic edge of his music, already present on the last record, into new territory just as I was discovering scores of classic records from the 1960s and 70s. I realized his guitar playing owed far more to Carlos Santana than Jimi Hendrix, to whom he was compared in a knee-jerk way when people couldn’t think of other famous black men shredding a guitar and didn’t know the name Eddie Hazel. Prince’s 1980s output basically set the template for my musical interests for the rest of my life without my being conscious of it. Here was a guy who played guitar like Santana, danced like James Brown, and dressed like Liberace. It’s probably because of Prince that I was able to buy new albums by the Talking Heads, De La Soul, and the Grateful Dead all in the same year with no cognitive dissonance. He’s why I can listen to Parliament and Joni Mitchell in the same sitting and find the space between the notes where they share a vision of being in the world. He made me want to play and write music and learn about how to record it, and gave me that feeling that the only limit is your own imagination. Even when I decided I no longer wanted to play or write music, that feeling persisted, and I think that was the important part.
In 1996, I moved to Chicago. One of the first women I dated there was an artist and dancer, who was completely livid when I stated that Prince was the Stevie Wonder of my generation. She just wasn’t having it. At that point, the Purple One’s records were in fact kind of losing my interest. But with output so prolific, there was always something worth hearing even if I didn’t rush out to get every new release (and there was so many new releases, my God). But I believed adamantly in the analogy and still do. We had an actual heated argument over this Prince vs Stevie Wonder thing. I broke it off not long after, deciding she was a fool.
Live experience addendum: I only saw him perform once, at the Uptown Theater in Chicago (an appropriately named venue). It was one of those situations where he announced the show a week before the date and tickets sold out within minutes. This would have been 2000 or 2001, I think, and I had trouble finding anybody to go with me. Didn’t have a date to bring and my friends were hesitant to pay for what seemed like an expensive ticket at that time. And it was a weeknight and people took great shows for granted there. I’ve never been shy about going to shows or films or anything else alone, so I figured I would just resell the extra ticket on the street. Except there were no paper tickets; in typical control-freak fashion, Prince had a plan to prevent scalping that involved having all 4000 tickets being treated as “will call” names on a list. After proving your identity, your name was crossed off the list and you were pushed inside the theater immediately. No leaving, no readmission. This laborious process results in a line of people snaking around the corner and extending for three blocks in the freezing cold and snow of a Chicago winter. When I figured out that this was how things were happening, I borrowed a cell phone from somebody in the line behind me (I didn’t own one yet) and called my friend Tim, who had only turned my ticket because he’d already seen Prince a handful of times. I told him I was going to lose the ticket if nobody was there to claim it, and so forget about the money, just get his ass up there and let’s see this show. I remember Tim was worried about his car having problems in the weather, and his drive from the South Side all the way to the Uptown Theater was going to be a long one, but I convinced him to try it. Unfortunately, he didn’t arrive before I was pushed into the lobby of the theater and out of the cold, and not having a cell phone made it impossible for me to know if he was on his way, or had given up from the snow and mistrust of his old car. I hung out in the lobby for as long as they would let me just stand around, hearing the band start a groove and missing Prince’s grand entrance while I looked out the frosted glass doors, trying to tell if my friend was driving around out there somewhere. All these rules seemed bizarre and arbitrary, but the staff was getting kind of hostile and telling me I couldn’t “loiter,” and had to either take my seat or leave. At that point I decided Tim must have decided he couldn’t make it and I went inside. Turns out he was out there, trying to find a parking spot. Sorry Tim. It was easily one of the most scintillating live performances I’ve ever been lucky enough to witness, and my irritation at the logistics of it all melted away after the first ten minutes. I would have liked to share the memory with someone. I need to see if there is a bootleg of that show out there somewhere. There are really no words left to describe it.
Prince had some periods where his music became less compelling to me, but it seemed like he was always searching, and even recently seemed like maybe he was finding what he was searching for again. It’s really hard for me to imagine a world where he is no longer obsessively working out his artistic whims and occasionally allowing us all to share in them. His body of work was like the loose purple thread from my favorite garment, the one you are forced to leave dangling, because to pull on it would unravel it all and leave you naked, and to cut it off would somehow be dishonest.
1.Woo Together 04:34 2. I’ll Be With You 07:26 3. Hold On 04:53 4. Much Thrust 03:54 5. Happy to Have (Happiness on Our Side) 07:36 6. Insurance Man For The Funk 12:32 7. Reprise: Much Thrust 00:40
Lead vocals: Bernie Worrell
“Assistant lead” vocals: Garry Shider, Walter Morrison, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins
All keyboards: Bernie Worrell
Additional keyboards on “Hold On”: Walter Morrison
Guitars: Garry Shider, Walter Morrison, Eddie Hazel, Glenn Goins, Phelps Collins, Bootsy Collins, Michael Hampton
Bass: Rodney Curtis, Billy Bass Nelson
Drums: Tyrone Lampkin, Jim Wright, Gary Cooper
Horns: Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Richard Griffith, Rick Gardner
Saxophone solo on “Hold On”: Eli Fontaine
Background vocals: Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and the voices of the nation.
I’ve been absent from blogging lately for a variety of reasons, none of them important right now. It’s been brought to my attention that keyboard genius and funk cosmonaut Bernie Worrell is suffering from stage 4 cancer without the means to pay for his treatment, and a fundraiser is being held tomorrow, April 4, at Webster Hall in NYC. I’ve been throwing my support behind a different guy named Bernie lately, so it seems reasonable to do whatever small thing I can do to help draw attention to what’s happening with Worrell, who’s work has brought me endless hours of pleasure and bemused befuddlement.
For the many non-New Yorkers who follow this blog, you can help the man by buying a download from his Bandcamp site, which you can get to by following the links under “Music” on his main website at http://bernieworrell.com/. You can also follow him on Facebook for updates on his situation.
I’d like to highlight his first solo release, All The Woo In The World. If you search around hard enough on this page, you’ll find a link to an imperfect vinyl rip of this album. I can’t even recall where it came from, to be honest (it’s not my transfer and has no lineage info included). I’m deliberately going with this one because it’s serviceable but imperfect – if you want audiophile quality this time, consider getting it directly from the man himself and helping him out.
I’m unable compose a post that does the man or this record justice on short notice, but it turns out that the fine people at Wax Poetics have already done so. I’m going to repost the text here, without permission, so please click on the link to the original piece and send them some web traffic and then wander around their site for a while. Buy a print copy of one of their exquisitely produced issues while you’re at it.
Thirty-five years ago, in 1978, Bernie Worrell released his first solo album, All the Woo in the World.
At that point, he was internationally famous for his laser-like
synthesizer licks in Parliament/Funkadelic, and in just five years’
time, he’d help Talking Heads transform from New York new-wave weirdoes
to funky world-music megastars.
Listening back to Woo, it’s no wonder Talking Heads wanted
Worrell’s guidance. The album, co-produced with George Clinton, is so
funky you can smell it through the dust jacket. In seven tracks, Worrell
shows how important he was to the P-Funk sound—in fact, the whole thing
could easily be passed off as a lost Parliament/Funkadelic record, if
not for Worrell’s name up top.
It’s impossible for me to listen to Woo, however, without
remembering an incredible day I spent with Worrell in a recording studio
a few years ago. He came to record an album in my hometown of
Gainesville, Florida, and the local paper asked me to cover it. At the
studio, I was ushered to the engineer’s console; lounging in a leather
chair was the man with the magic hands, slowed by arthritis but never
stopped. He wore a purple jacket that could have come from Prince’s
closet, a “FootJoy” golf glove on each hand to ease his arthritis pain,
expensive shades framing his face, and an ornate cap perched on his head
like an exclamation mark.
Worrell offered me a chair and spoke graciously about being George
Clinton’s songwriting soul mate. He recalled having a major role in
orchestrating P-Funk’s shaggy jams. He spoke honestly about the massive
amounts of drugs they all consumed, and how there was so much ass it was
hard to get anything done; he liked Eastern European women—“All fit, no
fat,” is how he put it. He talked about writing his first piano
concerto at the tender age of eight and realizing he had perfect pitch.
He remembered David Byrne as a painfully shy man, but sweet and eager to
learn. And he took much of the credit for leading Talking Heads down
the path of rhythm.
After our short chat, he went to work on a new song. As he helped his
bass player feel where the accents should go, it struck me that a great
player knows how to play the notes, but a genius knows why to
play the notes. “Slow your mind down,” Worrell instructed the bass man.
“It ain’t a North American thing. You got to feel the way they’d do it
The album he worked on that day was never released, if it was even
finished, but Worrell has put out a few things since. And even though
those things don’t capture him the way Woo did thirty-five years ago, perhaps it is important to respect that funk’s flame still burns bright in him.
“This is all I know how to do,” he said to me just before I left the
studio. Then, after a beat, “To teach, to please, and to woo,” he cooed
with a grin.
Mixed at Eras Recording Studio, 226 East 50th Street, N.Y., N.Y.
Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
Welcome to our first blog post of 2016! My enthusiasm for tending to this blog has slackened once again, but this time it has nothing to do with my dear readership or the “blogosphere” in general and everything to do with the dour notes that ended my 2015. So why not start the blog-year with something (not completely) different?
I will leave it for another post to say more about my slowly gestating interest in calypso and soca music. But along with finding random interesting stuff at record shop digs or on the virtual stacks of the internet, over a year ago I asked a good friend with good connections among record dealers and traders to “hook me up” with a stack of such titles, because I assumed his city must be drowning in the stuff. I went home with a bunch of cool music that day but this is the first title I have gotten around to sharing here.
I don’t know a lot about keyboardist Ed Watson and his band Brass Circle, so any calypsonians out there feel free to write in with comments. About six months after getting this record, I stumbled on another one from 1982 in which the liner notes state that he had kept a group together for 20 years, so therefore he got his start in the early 1960s. A few enthusiastic calypso/soca/kaiso YouTubers have uploaded a bunch of his material spanning the mid 70s to the 90s. Although I can only assume lots of musicians came and went in this band, the sound on this record is definitely a group that has spent a lot of time in live performance. It’s from the transitional period when cheesy synth patches were just beginning to proliferate, but there is enough leanness to the overall sound – including lots of electric piano and guitar – that I actually find the keyboards glorious.
[EDIT: I’ve always thought of my blog as a learning process, in public, so I’m only slightly chagrined that I didn’t know Mr. Ed Watson was the arranger of the famous monster hit for Lord Kitsch, Sugar Bum Bum. I’m adding this here but I expect that my next Ed Watson post will have more information about the man’s legacy as I live and learn]
The four original tunes here are skin-tight smoking soca. Punchy horns, rippling rhythm guitars, and that bass drum that hits you in the diaphragm like you’ve been kicked by a startled horse who keeps perfect time.
Unfortunately, those are only half the tracks.
The tightly animated originals are interspersed with some cover songs of contemporary soul hits. And unlike with reggae artists, where a singer would reinterpret an American soul tune backed by a clever arrangement, there is no attempt here to turn these songs ‘soca’: they are pretty much played as straight covers, with the exception of the bouncy faux-reggae lilt given to “Sail On”. A couple of them are instrumental or only feature vocals on the chorus. They remind me of something you’d expect to hear a wedding band play: they’re not bad, but they are also nothing special. In fact a more apropos analogy would be a cruise ship or hotel band, and I think there might be actual historical considerations here (as opposed to just talking out my ass). Many a steel band and calypso singer made their bread and butter playing in hotels or on cruise ships for tourists. It wouldn’t be unrealistic to speculate that Ed Watson paid the bills that way at least some of the time. The kind of repertoire on display here – spirited originals alternating with familiar hits of the day – would not be out of place on the tourist circuit. We can be glad at least that Mr. Watson had good taste in his song selection: Larry Graham, The Commodores, and The Manhattans are the chosen purveyors of 1980 chart happiness. I can’t quite fathom the reason why none of these covers have a lead vocal, as singer Errol Asche seems more than capable of giving these tunes a worthy spin. Instead, they come off as a bit like karaoke backing tracks.
Okay, let me revise something I said earlier, about these covers being “not bad”: the version of Larry Graham’s “One In A Million You” is just downright awful, with a spiritless saxophone playing the vocal melody. It’s not my favorite Larry Graham cut anyway, but there’s no excusing this dreary rendition. I suppose these tracks were what the band played when it deemed it time to initiate an intimate slow dance, seeing as soca is seemingly inimical to slow couples-dancing. If your tongue is halfway down your partner’s throat I guess it doesn’t matter much how the music sounds or if the sax is slightly out of tune.
The other two covers are better, especially The Manhattans “Shining Star”, which really makes you want to sing along (hey the mic is wide open, go for it!). But rather than share a clip for one of the covers on this album, I’ll share one from another of his records to prove without question that the formula can work. In the clip below, witness what – as my friend Bertha Butt has proclaimed – may be the best version of “Feelings” ever recorded.
Seriously, I just love everything about the instrumentation, production, and arrangement. I want it played at my funeral in lieu of a eulogy. Pop culture historians are free to argue the point, but I contend that for a time in the 1980s and 90s, singing a few lines of “Feelings” was the pre-internet equivalent of being “Rick Rolled”. AND did you know the original singer of the tune, Morris Albert, was a Brazilian whose real name was Maurício Alberto? So there, don’t let it be said that my first blog post of 2016 had no Brazilian content.
The other record I have, 1982’s “Dat Is Soca”, is a more solid listen that won’t have you reaching for your ‘skip’ button as often as this one. With any luck I’ll post it some time.
Just in time to close out the year, here is Episode 15 of the ongoing saga of freeform flabbergasting podcasts. It also happens to be the third anniversary of when I first started sharing these things. Hope you enjoy it!
Here are some direct download links (note: you only need one)
The Soulful Strings – Sleigh Ride Lou Donaldson – Green Eyes Arthur Lee & Love – Be Thankfulf For What You Got
Mario Cavagnaro and Sonoro Sensación – El Pompo Reginaldo Rossi – Pra Sentir Felicidade Pinduca – Não Posso Mais Martinho da Vila – Camefeu Mongo and Justo – Cumbia Tipica Ed Watson – Judgement Day
Evidence – That World’s Life Voyage – Orient Express Faze-O – Space People Lynn Collins & The JBs – Mama Feelgood Beaver and Krauss – Saga of the Blue Beaver Earth Wind and Fire – Fair But So Uncool Gal Costa – Relance Los Van Van – La Habana Joven Dicró – Espírito Mau Linda Lyndell – What A Man Billy Paul – War of the Gods Andey Bey – Hibiscus Ira SUllivan – Norwegian Wood