Peace, Love and GrassRoots

Just follow the fingers.

So says the man wearing sunglasses. He points ahead as we pull into Virginia Key Beach Park in Key Biscayne, Florida for the 4th Annual GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance. It is Saturday afternoon, day 3 of this four-day festival.

We follow the fingers, each one like the last one, magic wands ushering us towards the parking lot to settle among the cars, trucks, vans, jeeps, and campers. We are six today: me, my wife, my two sons, my friend, his daughter.

We get our tickets at the entrance and that’s it, there is no more finger-pointing. There is no more direction from others. We are on our own.

As we walk down the main trail towards the festival, our eager shadows lurch forward on the dust ahead of our feet. A breeze slips past the mangroves and onto our faces. We are, after all, on a beach, and we are open to wind, and sun and sand and sea.

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The trail is lined by tents on either side. There is disorder in the frames and colors and shapes of the tents and yet there is symmetry; They are here and now.

There are people on blankets.

There are people on camping chairs.

There are people drumming.

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The first festival music I hear is traditional Cuban music by LOS CONSORTES at the first stage called the Zen Village. It is nostalgic and comforting to me and a reminder that we are a flare shot’s distance from Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

We don’t linger here. We are hungry.

We find pizza. We find beer.

As roadies begin to set up at the main stage, the guy next to me explains bluegrass music to his wife.

A man with sunflowers dangling from his straw hat spins an umbrella over his head.

Another man wearing a Viking helmet conquers a little spot near the stage.

When Donna the Buffalo is finally introduced, there are roars of elation from the crowd.

The woman sitting next to me takes repeated photos of the band. She tells me she is the cousin of singer Tara Nevins. Tara also plays the classic fiddle, the accordion, guitar, the electric fiddle, while, song after song, guitarist Jeb Puryear keeps an element of zydeco strumming.

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There is dancing.

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The sun begins its long descent behind the crowd and the trees.

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I slip out the back of the stage to find a restroom and I’m immediately drawn to a steady beat-thumping taking place at the aptly named Dance Tent. San Francisco-based MC Yogi is leading a prayer-like electronica ritual, a balancing act that combines Hare Krishna and Ultra Music Fest.

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MC Yogi makes women sweat, men bare their chest.

There are smiles and laughter.

There is euphoria.

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We are dry. We are salty.

We find Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Sweet Cream and Cookies ice cream at a Ben & Jerry’s cart. The kids get ice cream on their shirts and fudge on their cheeks.

Across lonely picnic tables, the Zen Village is hosting Miami singer Sindy Rush, an attractive blonde vocalist that looks like 80s2015-02-21 18.58 metal queen Lita Ford. A guy behind me yells “Sindy, you’re hot” during a break and she says thank you in a very casual and courteous way like she’s heard this before.

Sindy is hot. And there is smoke. And lights. And when there is apparent confusion before her next song,  more smoke and lights drape Ms. Rush and her band and now they are all silhouettes, and they launch into an appetizing cover of The Eurythmics’ Here Comes the Rain Again.

We are curious.

One of the delightful things about music festivals is the traveling retailers and Grassroots has no shortage of hand-crafted items for sale. What sticks out here is the prevalence of Native American art and crafts. We hear tall tales from a Pascua Yaqui tribesman from Tucson.

We buy a buffalo whistle and a pipe flute and incense that is used by indigenous people during cleansings.

By now the sun and the clouds are gone.

We are fading. We find hammocks.

When one of the festival announcers says, “we have a surprise for you,” and introduces local gospel and soul queen Maryel Epps, I rally our crew to get a closer look. Lo and behold, we are surprised.

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She belts a few Motown tunes but it is her rendition of Sly & the Family Stone’s Dance to the Music that moves mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, husbands and wives.  Ms. Epps glows in a long flow of pink (she is by far the best dressed person in all the festival.)

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After the show we chat with Ms. Epps backstage and take photos with her. Then leave her to savor her moment.

We wander off to wait for the next act.

A bit later, Cuban singer Danay Suarez strolls onto the main stage and in a thick-like-froth accent delivers a greeting to the crowd.

How-wa-ju Grass-rrootz?

And then the band kicks into a slow, steady, reggae rhythm and Danay drops a Nina Simone-like vocal over the beat, beckoning the crowd concealed in the dark towards her. Her singing comes through with an echoing effect, like waves.

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We stay for awhile, transfixed, until it is time to go (the kids are ready).

The path back to our car is unlit and unmarked but we follow fingers and voices and direction again.

As we drive away, sand becomes asphalt, trees become condos, moonlight become traffic lights.

Back to the city. We are fulfilled, for now.

But soon we will long for more peace, love and GrassRoots.

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Copyright © 2015 Long Play Miami

 

Galactic Mission: Complete

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Sometimes the evening clouds part and the constellations appear. The Little Dipper bends toward the heavens, the Big Dipper makes eyes with the North Star, and the Seven Sisters gather and form a Kumbaya circle. It is at this time in your otherwise ordinary life on Earth that cosmic forces align and draw you in. So preach people who study astrology. And for one moment last month, I was a believer.

Check that; I was an astronaut.

A few days before, I took a break from work and checked my Facebook page. There, among the barrage of status updates, selfies, and sponsored ads, I came across this concert promotion posted by The Rhythm Foundation, a local organization that’s been hosting lively music performances in South Florida for over two decades.

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Let me talk about a particular funk band — Galactic.

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Since the late 1990s, this New Orleans quintet has displayed a flawless, other-worldly funk that never goes sour. Their sound is a gumbo that mixes a saucy southern soulful rhythm guitar, finger-lickin heavy Bayou bass lines, and skippety be-bopping percussive beats with a sprinkle of cowbell and a double dash of high-hats. And that’s just the instrumental jams. When they invite rappers to lend vocals, add one part old-school-hip-hop to that gumbo, dropping verses on the hard street life of the Big Easy.

This is head-bobbing music, back and forth, back and forth. If Rush concerts are ground zero for air drummers, then a Galactic concert is ground zero for head bobbers.[1]

On two occasions I had a chance to watch Galactic perform. The first time was at New Orleans’ Voodoo Music Festival in 2010 and the second time was at last year’s Sunshine Music & Blues Festival at Mizner Park in Boca Raton, and both times I was regretfully too inebriated so I missed my chance to acquire a proper appreciation for their live gigs.

So when my Facebook page brought me this news of a free Galactic concert on a Friday night, I stared at that astronaut on my computer screen for while. But then it hit me, that sonic boom of resistance and left-brain logic speaking to me from a voice closer to home listing all of the why-nots:

  1. Friday night.
  2. Rush hour.
  3. Distance.
  4. Kids.
  5. Saturday soccer matches.
  6. Saturday chores.
  7. Etcetera.

So I shrugged, passed the cursor over the thumbs-up symbol, and settled for adding my “like” to the photo.[2]

Reason prevailed and I forgot about the whole thing. I went back to work.

On Friday morning, on my way to the office, my wife calls me. Bad news, she says. The check-engine light is on in my car.

I immediately called our go-to mechanic shop and informed them. They said I could bring the car Friday night and drop the keys off through one of the bay door slips.

That evening after our kids’ soccer practice, we piled into both of our cars. I had one of my kids with me, while my wife tailed behind with our other son.  We made plans by cellphone to have dinner near the mechanic’s shop. We knew of a few family friendly restaurants in that area. As we drove towards the traffic heading north on Interstate-95, it hit me, this idea, like a comet crashing into the frontal lobe of my brain:

Honey, the mechanic is around the corner from Hollywood ArtsPark.
What?
Let’s go see Galactic.
But…

This time the wave of resistance was no match for the cosmic forces. We had no choice but to acquiesce to the forces and the planets and the moon.

Thirty five minutes later, we were at Fillmore Street and 24th Avenue, in Hollywood, Florida, dropping off the VW keys with the last mechanic there.

Then we directed my car towards ArtsPark to search for a parking space amid the crowded street corners and distant music 2015-01-30 20.53.28from the opening band (Monophonics). We found a spot on a side road, crossed a few streets, and entered a Friday night of neon and tie dye and bearded men in flannel shirts while the first band wrapped up their set.

We snacked on hot dogs and chips.

We killed time. We waited.

Suddenly, the bright lights dimmed to space-age blues and pink. Galactic arrived and got rolling. We side-stepped the crowd and found an ideal spot near the corner of the stage. I took turns putting my kids on my shoulders where they could see the band up close through the clouds of smoke and clusters of neon, along with other miniature people secured to the shoulders of their own dads.

When trombone player Corey Henry grabbed the mike and rapped to the crowd, hands went up and waved back and forth with the beat. When the band introduced vocalist Erica Falls, we were transported light years away.

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That night we bobbed our heads.

That night we were astronauts.

And when the night ended and our mission was complete, we returned home safely.


Here’s a track from Galactic’s 2007 From the Corner to the Block:


Footnotes:

[1] Speaking of head-bobbing: Toy bobble heads are reported to date back to around the 1840s and are based on a character from a Russian-penned short story that was described to have a neck that resembled “the neck of plaster cats which wag their heads”?

[2] Why does Facebook only permit a thumbs-up option to express your feelings about a post? What about the fist-pump or the high-five? I believe those have earned a spot on our menu of digital expressions, Facebook. And while you’re at it, so have the thumbs-down, the middle finger, and the double middle finger.

Copyright © 2015 Long Play Miami

Soul Flashback – January 1976 (Gridiron Edition)

Thirty-nine years ago this week the City of Miami hosted Super Bowl X. The game matched the defending champions, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Dallas Cowboys.

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And it was a classic.

Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw connected with Lynn Swann for a 64 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to take a 21-10 lead. Less than two minutes later, Roger Staubach lead a Cowboys touchdown drive to pull within four points with less than twosuper_bowl_x_swann_original_display_image minutes to go in regulation. Then the Cowboys recovered a fumble and with 18 seconds left, the ball at the Steelers 38 yard line, Staubach tried to pass it to Drew Pearson for the win. But the ball was intercepted at the 2 yard line by safety Glen Edwards.

Game over. Steelers won 21-17.

Some 20 miles north from the stadium was Sunny Isles, a town located in North Miami Beach known for its beach front hotels and steady mix of wise guys, tourists, and rock stars (e.g, part-time resident Eric Clapton used to comb the beach, Jim Morrison combed the bars, etc.)

The night after the Super Bowl, euphoric and possibly hung over Steeler fans got another treat to go with their victory. It happened at The Swinger Nite Club inside the Marco Polo Hotel.

The Swinger opened in 1971 and lived up to its swanky name. Al Green, Wilson Pickett, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Chubby Checker, Sister Sledge were just a few artists to play gigs there.

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On Monday, January 19, 1976, Miami soul singer Betty Wright aka Miami’s First Lady of Soul, fresh off her fourth album, performed at The Swinger.

Danger High Voltage, released in 1975

Discovered by Deep City Records co-founders Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall at the age of 15, Wright’s career took off fast. She had her first hit in 1968 (“Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do”), her first chart topper in 1971 (“Clean Up Woman”) and by the mid 1970s, she was global, so her coming back home to play at a club in Sunny Isles was as rare as seeing Steeler fans doing the Hustle.

Below is a new clipping from the Miami Herald that was published 39 years ago today about this Betty Wright performance that brought together an unlikely yet fortunate crowd comprised of “disco freaks” and Steeler fans.

This is the hit song that Betty Wright closed with that January night. The song won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1976:

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End Note: The Marco Polo survived. Today its a condo-hotel known as the Aventura Beach Club with the hotel operation managed by Ramada (Ramada Plaza Marco Polo Beach Resort.)

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Vinyl Love

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Last Saturday was Record Store Day, a day to pay homage to the vinyl record and the independent record shop. The idea for Record Store Day (or RSD) was born in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners in Baltimore, Maryland: their mission was simple – maximize awareness towards an industry and culture that was racing towards extinction. According to www.recordstoreday.com, RSD is a day “for the people who make up the world of the record store — the staff, the customers, and the artists — to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities.” Guess what? Its worked. This year marked the 7th consecutive year for RSD. Approximately 2,000 record shops from around the world celebrated with parties and concerts and opened their shops to larger-than-normal crowds of record enthusiasts looking for new releases or re-issues. Miami’s finest record shop – Sweat Records – reported on Twitter witnessing “MADNESS” this past weekend (the vibe, not the London band with the 1982 hit single “Our House”); hundreds of record fans stood in line and braved the early morning showers to get their vinyl fix. Similar RSD enthusiasm was documented in cities across the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Vinyl record sales have been trending upwards each year. Its very common today for musicians to once again include vinyl record releases of their music. And demand is growing. Record sales figures are projected to reach $9 MM this year, up from $6 MM in 2013, and $4.5 MM in 2012. Yes, those are small figures compared to the number of iTunes downloads but nevertheless a remarkable and impressive achievement in this digital age.

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Nostalgia aside, plain and simple, there has always been something unique about record buying and record playing that far exceeds the joy one gets (or I get) from the CD or iTunes.  I’m talking vinyl love here; real, tangible love.

Back when I was a kid, this is how I spent the best parts of most Saturday afternoons at the mall, while my mother shopped at the woman’s clothing store next door:

Maybe you have a similar memory.

Flipping through the latest albums on display at the record shop, pulling one out to view the cover art or the song list before placing it back and flipping some more until the next one catches your attention. Finding the one or two albums that made all the sense in your little world.

On the car ride home, new record on your lap, you tell your mom to drive faster. You secretly curse every red light along the way.

At home, you remove the plastic wrapping, pull out the record sleeve, study it – the graphics, the liner notes – and when you’re ready to hear the music, you tilt the sleeve to let the record slide out onto your hands. You hold it firmly but with care from the sides so as not to tarnish it with fingerprints. You might even inspect the record for any dust particles still hanging on to it.

You turn the record player on and gently place the disc on the platter fitting the center over the spindle so that it pokes through and secures it for what’s next. The turntable is ready. You press the spin button, turn the volume way up, place the needle on the record, and await the bull-rush sensation when the needle comes in contact with the first sonic groove.

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I love vinyls. Around 1997, I began a deliberate effort to ‘collect’ records and curate my own collection for years to come. I thought the days of LPs and 45s were numbered. So I began a buying spree. Local libraries, garage sales, estate sales, and small record shops from as far away as Toronto. I made it a point that every business trip include a visit to a neighborhood record store.

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However, today the majority of my collection is comprised of three separate private collections that I acquired from previous owners who either passed on or just wanted to move on. I have given each collection a name as a tribute and token of my appreciation to its previous owner. They are:

1. The Steve
2. The Lourdes
3. The Raul

As an ode to Record Store Day and vinyl love, in general, I will be posting a story about each of these collections in the coming weeks.

The first post will feature the most recently acquired.

 

The Raul Collection

[New York club DJ/record producer 1978-1988]

Principal Genres: Disco, Freestyle, Soul

COMING SOON

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“Deep City” Has Arrived

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A couple of award-winning documentary filmmakers and an avid art collector & philanthropist have teamed up to produce a very charming documentary about the first black-owned record production company in Florida: Deep City Records. Deep City operated in Miami from about 1964 to 1968. It was founded by two friends who first got the idea to make records when they were college mates at Florida A&M. Willie Clarke was the creative; Johnny Pearsall was the entrepreneur. They enlisted the multi-talented Clarence Reid and the three of them set the course for Miami’s special contribution to the soul music landscape of the 1960s.

Deep City recorded local musicians, many of them native Miamians culled from the churches of Liberty City and the night clubs of Overtown, while others were transplants from Jacksonville, Georgia, Arkansas, and other far away places. The record label released songs by Helene Smith, Betty Wright, Them Two, Frank Williams & the Rocketeers, Freda Gray, and Johnny Killens & The Dynamites, to name a few. Local R&B legend Little Beaver played guitar on some of Deep City’s deepest cuts.

The film, titled Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound, had its world premiere last night at the SXSW [South by Southwest] Festival in Austin, Texas.

Next stop on the festival circuit is Miami where this Friday, March 14th, the movie will have its Florida debut at the Miami International Film Festival (8:30 PM, Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center). Tickets for the film can be purchased here.

Long Play Miami is honored to be among the first to receive a copy of the movie’s trailer, and, with the filmmakers’ permission, shares it here for all music and film fans to enjoy.

Read the previous Long Play Miami post on the making of the film from January 2013.

Photo Shoot: Willie “Little Beaver” Hale

A few weeks ago Little Beaver agreed to let me take some photos of him for this site. This was our second meeting.

During our first meeting back in December, when I asked if I could invite my friend Joe to photograph our interview, he refused. Next time, he promised.

So when he agreed, he was simply honoring his word.

I headed to his home in Opa-locka on a Friday afternoon in January with my wife’s Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, a swivel desk lamp with a 60 watt light bulb, and an extension cord.

In his living room I set up the lamp on his coffee table, connected it to a nearby socket, and swivel-aimed the light towards him while he sat down on his bar stool.

Do you want me to wear my Little Beaver glasses?

Before I could say yes, he was already reaching for a pair of shades folded on top of the bar.

And so began the first-ever Long Play Miami photo shoot.

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I then asked him if he could get his guitar.

You mean, Katie Pearl?

I thought you’d want me to.

I’ll be right back.

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Little Beaver strummed the guitar for a bit. And then, the strumming flowed into a familiar tune as he began playing his famous guitar track from the 1971 Betty Wright classic, Clean Up Woman.

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During the photo shoot, I took notice of the drink coasters around his living room. coasters

After he put away his guitar, I sat down on the couch and we talked for awhile, about mundane things like the weather (“I was a little nippy this morning… 39 degrees.”) to far less mundane things like whether he’d ever play in public again (“You know, when you don’t play, you get rusty…”).

Then he remembered something he wanted to show me. He left the room for a minute and returned with a photograph that was mailed to him by his friend Lawrence Watson from Forrest City, Arkansas, where he grew up.

I was maybe 15-16 yrs old.

[That was] Some juke… some little hole in the wall. See the snare drum sitting on the chair?

We were ‘wood-sheddin.’

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(That’s Watson on the far left with the bass guitar and of course, that’s Beaver – with the shades.)

As the daylight began to fade, I asked if I could take a couple of photos of him outside.  This idea didn’t seem to sit well. There was a moment of hesitation in the way he remained on the bar stool.

But then he just said yes and we walked out the front door.

In the late afternoon sun, Little Beaver stood in the space between the corner of the façade and a half-shuttered window. Occasionally he’d look to either side of him. He wanted to make sure none of the neighbors were watching.

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Because, as he has told me before,…

Willie “Little Beaver” Hale doesn’t like ‘all that fuss.’

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See the Long Play Miami interview of this Miami soul/funk legend from December 2013 here (Part 1 and Part 2).

Copyright © 2014 Long Play Miami

Little Beaver & the Stones

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Last week, after posting my story about Willie “Little Beaver” Hale, I noticed that there were several readers that found their way to this site not from Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit but rather from an obscure four-lettered website – www.iorr.org. It turns out that this is the official website for the Rolling Stones Fan Club; the acronym “iorr” stands for It’s Only Rock-n-Roll.

I like it, I like it, yes I do.

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A little more digging brought me to the site’s fan forum where one inquisitive Stones fan, under the heading Willie Hale – Little Beaver – almost a Stone? had posted that he once read that Little Beaver had been approached to join the Rolling Stones after guitarist Mick Taylor left the band in the 70s. The fan closed with, “Does anybody know anything about this?”

A few years back on the same fan club site, there was this exchange about Little Beaver’s iconic guitar playing on the 1971 Betty Wright hit song ‘Clean Up Woman.’

Rolling Stones Fan 1: “I always thought that the Stones studied the way the two guitars work together on Wright’s hit. There are two interlocking guitar parts on that record that are fun to play. I might be wrong, but I think one of the parts was played by Little Beaver who was supposedly considered for the M. Taylor slot.”

Rolling Stones Fan 2: “You’re right about Little Beaver playing on Clean Up Woman… Great Miami funk… I also heard he was considered to replace Mick Taylor.”

Over the course of the more than 5 hours, over two days, that I spent with the legendary Miami guitarist at his home in Opa-locka, this topic never came up. I did my fair share of prep work for the interview. Did I miss something this big?

I called Beaver the other night and asked him about it.

No, he said, he was never actually approached to join the English rock band but, …

There was a concert or a tour and I did hear that it was a toss-up between me and Stevie Wonder performing with them.

Was it a concert or a tour? I asked.

I think it was a tour.

Let’s pause for a second and reflect on this.

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In the summer of 1972, the Rolling Stones, upon release of their album Exile on Main Street, embarked on a tour across the U.S. and Canada. The opening act night after night? Stevie Wonder.

Wonder, then 21 years old, was just hitting his stride with the release of his LP, Talking Book, which contained the classic hit ‘Superstition.’ On the tour, he would join the Stones on stage during their encores on songs like ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ and ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.’

Willie Clarke, a producer and composer who oversaw the production of ‘Clean Up Woman’ as well as many of Little Beaver’s R&B records at TK bettywright1said he didn’t have much recollection of the Stones/Beaver story but he said it wouldn’t surprise him that Beaver received consideration.

Beaver won guitarist of the year around that time so he was very popular.

The Stones 1972 American Tour remains one of the most famous concert events in music history and the subject of countless published works including documentaries and photography books. The tour is credited with elevating the band to the very top of the rock-n-roll world.

And Stevie Wonder? With the wider visibility and exposure to a rock audience gained during the tour, his career flourished, cementing him as one of the most celebrated musicians of our time.

Here’s Little Beaver again:

The fact that it was between me and Stevie Wonder… Man, just to be in the company with Stevie Wonder, that’s all I need.

That was great to me.

Stevie Wonder & the Stones, 1972:

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In case you missed it, here’s the Long Play Miami story on Willie “Little Beaver” Hale – Part 1 and Part 2.

Copyright © 2014 Long Play Miami

Little Beaver – Part 2

If you missed Part 1, read it here.

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Circa 1963.

Little Beaver’s debut performance at Overtown’s Knight Beat club had just ended. Frank Duboise, a local musician, was watching from nearby. After all, his band, The Chicken Scratchers, was the club’s house band at the time. Duboise approached Beaver afterwards and invited him to join his band on the spot.

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We ended up in Coconut Grove at the Tiki Club. Bobby Marshall was the MC. We had B.B. King come there one night. We were the house band and B.B. was the star.  And that’s when I first met Sam & Dave…

Beaver remembers playing to a packed house every weekend with the Chicken Scratchers. But they didn’t just play at the black clubs. Duboise had another gig, a “white evening lounge” off of NW 27th Avenue.

Frank liked to play Sinatra… ‘cause he worked for the judges downtown on 12th Street and so he would do little gigs for the judges and lawyers.

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Beaver says that whenever Duboise would start with “that stuff” (Sinatra music), he’d ask Beaver to leave the stage.

He would let me go. Go have a drink or something…,

because I play too loud.

He only stuck it out for about a month.

Sure, the gigs were fine and the pay ($75 per night) was pretty good but Beaver says he started to miss Florida City.

I was getting lonesome. I didn’t have many friends in Miami. So I left the band and went back down to Florida City and I played where I always played; at the Lucy Street Bar somewhere back there on Krome Avenue.

One night he happened to cross paths with Frank Williams. Williams and his group The Rocketeers were the ‘it’ band of Miami’s soul scene at the time. They backed up just about every artist that rolled through Miami’s Overtown club scene. They had also cut some records of their own under William’s label, Saadia (named after one of his twin daughters) and were getting local airplay. In other words, their music could be heard day and night from Coconut Grove to Liberty City.

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Williams asked Beaver to join his band as lead guitarist (former guitarist Joey Gilmore left the band in 1964 to enlist in the Army). Beaver accepted. It was time to move on from Florida City anyway. The real action was happening in Miami. So one day he had a friend drive him to The Island Club in Overtown where Williams was set to perform that evening.

I didn’t have no attire to wear on stage, you know. And so Frank got one of them porters there or whatever you call them who had a little white outfit and I used one of his little outfits that [first] night.

What a combo. A 19-year old bluesy virtuoso with Miami’s hottest R&B act.

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They played behind the likes of Sam & Dave, Teddy Pendergrass, Johnny Taylor, Etta James, Betty Wright and on and on.

Then he pauses and says:

But, Frank exploited me, so to speak.

Whenever the word “exploit” comes up during any of these interviews with past Miami musicians, it makes me cringe a little.  So I say, you mean in a good way, right?

Sure, it turned out to be in a good way but I didn’t know it at the time.

I didn’t want to be a vocalist. I was a musician at heart. Still am, you know. I didn’t consider myself no singer. All through my life coming up when I learned to play guitar there was always a vocalist in the group. That was the singer. And we all acknowledged that. I wasn’t no singer. I guess I was kind of like Nat King Cole.

Beaver then tells me a story about Cole, that he never wanted to sing but one day at a club one of those “gangster guys” came in and wanted to hear One For My Baby, One For My Rose. For some reason, which in hindsight seems like a legendary anecdote, the lead vocalist wasn’t there. So the club owner told Cole to either sing the song or find himself another job.

After that, it was history. Nat was a singer, whether he wanted to be or not.

Beaver says Williams wanted him to sing.

Me and Frank had a big discussion about it, brought tears to my eyes. I was so mad. He got mad too. I can get guitar players a dime a dozen, he said. I need someone who can sing and do a little more than just play the guitar.

He kind of twisted my arm ‘cause I was making pretty good money. I didn’t want to leave that job and go back down to [Florida City] ‘cause I figured I kind of wore out my welcome going back down there a second time…, so I was forced to stay and I started to sing.

After that, whenever the Rocketeers played at the Island Club, Beaver had to sing a few numbers too. He didn’t like it but he grew into his new role.

(He sits up in his chair a little.)

Eventually I became the favorite with the people. They enjoyed everybody but they especially came out to hear Little Beaver. Instead of Frank Williams and the Rocketeers on his poster boards he put up, it was Frank Williams and the Rocketeers featuring Little Beaver.

‘Cause Little Beaver was the drawing card.

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Beaver acknowledges Frank William’s influence on him.

I give him credit. He got me started.

I had to start somewhere.

The Rocketeers were one of the hardest working bands in Miami at the time, drawing full houses week in and week out, and Little Beaver was aFrankWilliamsRocketeers_zps9aa910cb big part of it. From 1964 to around 1968, they were the featured act at the Knight Beat, then Mr. James Club, then Continental Club, then Double Decker Lounge, and finally back at the Knight Beat. They also got into the studio and cut some good sounding soul records including the hit You Got To Be A Man (Phil-LA-of Soul, 1966).

Things were good, for a good little while, he says. Until they weren’t.

Clyde Killens

Clyde Killens

Beaver says Frank Williams wanted to run some clubs, manage them like night club impresario Clyde Killens, who at the time ruled over the Overtown club scene.

Killens could get just about anybody to perform at his clubs.

Beaver thinks the two of them partnered up on some things and Williams got in over his head with debts. He eventually stopped paying the band.

Clyde would come in and take all the money.

Everything that came through the door.  Every penny.

The Rocketeers were finished. First the horn players left, and later, one by one: bassist Edmund Collins, drummer Robert Ferguson, pianist Louie Howard, and Little Beaver.

We just couldn’t do it no more. I was like four or five months behind in my rent.

Meanwhile, just outside the club’s doors, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. Beaver recalls the social changes underway in the late 60s.castaways-sign#

Black people were taking their money to [Miami Beach]…, places like the Castaways or the Eden Roc.

They weren’t going to the black clubs.

We had our own clubs, …prestigious black clubs. But we lost clientele.

He goes on.

A lot of people enjoyed the freedom. They wanted to go to the white clubs just to say We Made It. It’s like we needed to find our identity. But we already had an identity.

We talk about this for a few more minutes, about those that have and those that have not and how the haves always want more.

But let’s get back to music history.

During one of Little Beaver’s night club performances, he came to know Willie Clarke, songwriter/producer with TK Studios and former co-founder of Miami’s Deep City Records. Clarke invited Beaver to come out to TK’s Hialeah studios, which at the time was gaining momentum as a player in the national soul music scene.

I went out there and they wanted to hear some of my material. I played one song for them – Joey.

The song is a ripe blend of soul and blues about a man under duress ’cause his baby is calling out another man’s name.

Released under TK’s R&B label (Cat), the record wasn’t a hit right away. But Beaver didn’t just sit around. He formed his own group and started playing “the same little joints as before.”

Then Dave Prater (formerly of Sam & Dave) called.

Prater had just split from Sam Moore and was coming back to Miami. He wanted Beaver and his group to back him up on his solo U.S. tour. After a few dates, the tour turned out to be a disaster.

We were starving…, every place we’d go was canceled because he was booking himself as “Sam & Dave” and he didn’t have Sam. I mean, I sounded good singing with him but I wasn’t Sam. That was crooked. When people got [to the show], they canceled.

He says one day he called from the road over to TK studios. Willie Clarke got on the phone.

He said, Hey man, when you coming home? You got a hit!

With a little help from some friends, mainly local DJs like Butterball from WMBM, Joey (Cat, 1972) broke out and onto the Billboard R&B charts, reaching #48 on the list.

At this point in the interview, Little Beaver pauses to look out the front window. It’s not so much a look but rather a departure from this moment.

In 1974, Beaver blew the doors open on his music career with his biggest hit record.

There was a guy. He was a white fellow, jail bird, I didn’t know it at the time. He had a long rap sheet. But anyway I used to go over his apartment and smoke a little weed and listen to records. And he played this song by a white group and I heard the chord changes and the chord changes stuck. I couldn’t get rid of it. So I started to go home and play those chords changes. And I kept playing them.

And then there was a commercial on TV, one of those island commercials, like Jamaica, Tahiti, you know, with the girl all dressed in a little suit with her hair hanging and it was like ting-tun-ting-tuun… ting-ku-ku-kun ting-tun… just over and over and I said man, that’s soothing.

So I started to put that together with those chord changes. And I came up with Party Down.


Party Down (Cat, 1974) debuted on Billboard’s R&B Charts on September 21, 1974 and raced up to #2. Little Beaver was a household name.

He was even invited to perform the hit song on Soul Train.

Yeah, that was my Ed Sullivan show.

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Beaver says the record was so commercial, it’s still selling with each generation that discovers it.

I get more money from royalties now than I did back then when it first came out.

He tells me about the day he learned that Jay Z had used one of his songs from the Party Down album.

I went on WikiPedia one day. You know…, I look at myself once in a while, see what they saying about me.

And I see Jay Z just sampled one of [my] songs. I said, what? I didn’t even know who Jay Z was. There’s so many of them, Jay Z, Smooth E Z, L Cool, Cool Cool, there’s a million of them. I didn’t have a gangsterclue who Jay Z was.

Jay Z used Beaver’s song, Get Into The Party Life, for the 2007 film American Gangster starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.

I got paid pretty good.

Little Beaver’s recording career after 1974 lost some steam. He had a couple mild hits but the R&B audience had changed as they gravitated more towards disco music. Beaver’s last recording was I Feel Like Crying (Cat, 1978). In 1980, TK, which produced some of the biggest disco hits in the world, folded, as did the Cat record label. Little Beaver put away the guitar and got himself a job.

He worked as a cleaner with Miami-Dade Transit for 30 years until he retired in 2012. Hardly any of his colleagues knew he was Little Beaver. They all knew him as Willie [Hale].

Beaver says he just never had the desire to continue with the music career.

I didn’t want that fame and fortune and Hollywood thing. I wasn’t after that.

He says when he reminisces, it makes him laugh.

I have never tried to do anything but people seek me out. I’m not trying to be famous. But my name keeps poppin’ up. I had a DJ email me from San Diego, California, wants to interview me. He’s into my music. I hate to say I’m not interested so I just pretend I didn’t hear…

He pauses again and looks towards the window.

I don’t want all of that fuss, man.

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