Category: STORIES

My Bob Dylan Story

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The Swedish Academy says it has given up trying to reach Bob Dylan, days after it awarded him the Nobel Prize of Literature. The Guardian, 10/17/2016

Bob Dylan has accepted the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy said, adding that getting the prestigious award left him speechless. Billboard, 10/29/2016

Yesterday evening the Swedish Academy received a personal letter from Bob Dylan, in which he explained that due to pre-existing commitments, he is unable to travel to Stockholm in December and therefore will not attend the Nobel Prize Ceremony. The Swedish Academy, 11/16/2016

In honor of Mr. Bob Dylan, who is scheduled to receive tomorrow, in absentia, the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature, I submit this personal anecdote.

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When Bob Dylan stepped onto the stage at the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale two weeks ago, the crowd stood and applauded.

I, on the other hand, remained in my seat, shaking the ice loose in my whiskey.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen Bob Dylan in concert.  That was 10 years ago at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, FL, and it was dreadful.

That spring night, Dylan mostly stood on a dimly lit side of the stage with his guitar, and labored through song after song with the least amount of interest, his face shadowed by a large black hat.

There was no greeting. There were no pleasantries. I don’t recall that he ever once turned to the crowd.

Our friends walked out early. My wife and I stuck it out for one encore but we were miserable. We argued on the way home.

The next morning, we talked about it. What a disappointment, she said. Well, I replied, it’s always a risk when you have certain expectations of an eccentric like him.

Bad night? Sure, but devoted and forgiving Dylan fan nonetheless.

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My big-hearted affinity for Bob Dylan started in October 1999.

I was engaged to another girl then. She was lovely and I imagined a good life with her at first, but as the months passed, I began to drift. I considered the possibity of relocating to a new city. Denver, San Francisco, anywhere but where I was. On the outside, I may have kept it cool with friends and acquaintances but inside I was crumbling.

It was around that time that I discovered Dylan, that is, I discovered my first Dylan record album, at a book sale at the Coral Gables Public Library, a two-record compilation titled Greatest Hits, Volume 2.

Released in 1971, “Volume 2” was once dubbed the album that best represents what Dylan has “wrought in popular music, as a composer, lyricist, and performer.” [Rolling Stone Record Guide, 1983].

I paid a dollar for it.

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With a marriage engagement hanging by a thread, I found solace in Dylan’s music, and in particular, one song – Don’t Think Twice Its All Right.

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Countless love songs have been written throughout history. Even Dylan wrote long songs, but this song is not one of them. This is a break-up song. Honest, crude, and unapologetic. (About the song, Dylan once wrote,“It’s a statement that maybe you can say to make yourself feel better.”). It was exactly what I needed.

By November that year, I had typed the feel-better lyrics and tacked them to a bulletin board above my desk next to a digital map of Northern California and a photo of a desert tree near the Grand Canyon.

By December, the song had become a personal anthem. Whichever action I needed to take, whatever consequences would come, I needed to be selfish, I needed to move on. It would be all right.

Greatest song ever? Probably not. Probably not even Dylan’s best song, but, it doesn’t matter.

At the concert in Fort Lauderdale two weeks ago, the set list consisted of many songs I didn’t know from his last two albums, Tempest [2012] and Shadows In The Night [2015]. Of course, he could have, and was entitled to, perform any of the more than 650 songs he has recorded since 1961.

The unpredictable Dylan opened the show with the single Things Have Changed from the 2000 film Wonder Boys, a somewhat obscure song (save for the fact that it won an Academy Award for Best Original Song).

He grinned. He even kind of danced. Already, this show was feeling good.

Then he strutted to a piano, removed his hat, and began playing another tune. He hit a few keys I knew. I sat up in my chair and turned to my wife and said, I think I know what’s coming.

And then it came.

Well, it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe

Even you don't know by now

And it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe

It'll never do somehow




When your rooster crows at the break of dawn

Look out your window, and I'll be gone

You're the reason I'm a-traveling on

But don't think twice, it's all right.




And it ain't no use in turning on your light, babe

The light I never knowed

And it ain't no use in turning on your light, babe

I'm on the dark side of the road




But I wish there was somethin' you would do or say

To try and make me change my mind and stay

But we never did too much talking anyway

But don't think twice, it's all right.




So it ain't no use in calling out my name, gal

Like you never done before

And it ain't no use in calling out my name, gal

I can't hear you any more




I'm a-thinking and a-wonderin' walking down the road

I once loved a woman, a child I am told

I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul

But don't think twice, it's all right.




So long honey, baby

Where I'm bound, I can't tell

Goodbye's too good a word, babe

So I'll just say fare thee well




I ain't a-saying you treated me unkind

You could have done better but I don't mind

You just kinda wasted my precious time

But don't think twice, it's all right.

 

That night, there would be no disappointment, there would be no fight. The ice in my drink had broken loose and dissolved into my whiskey.

Copyright © 2016 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

Money for Nothing: The Larry Mobley Story

You know we never got one penny for that record.

50 Cent in video screenshot for "Money"

50 Cent in video screenshot for “Money”

Larry Mobley is on the line.  He’s called my office to follow up on a conversation we had yesterday.  He wants to know again where I had heard that the rapper 50 Cent had sampled Am I a Good Man, the classic Miami soul song that he and his partner, Larry Greene, recorded more than 45 years ago.

The original record was released by the Miami label DEEP CITY RECORDS in July of 1967.  According to the website, www.whosampled.com, the song has been sampled at least 14 times including by the rapper pictured here on his 2012 track Money.

50 Cent, oh Lord.

It’s a shame that me and Larry [Greene] didn’t profit at all from any of that. I’m not talking about millions.  I’m talking about hundreds, you know.

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Larry Mobley met Larry Greene around 1955 when they were both in junior high school in St. Petersburg, Florida and immediately bonded. After all, they both liked to sing.  Greene preferred a high pitch (“like Curtis Mayfield”) while Mobley sang in a low, almost baritone pitch. They’d practice their harmonizing night after night.

Royal Theater, St. Petersburg, FL

Royal Theater, St. Petersburg, FL

People were so surprised that two voices could sound so blended together and make a sound that sounded as if it were 3 or 4 voices. That was back from sitting behind the community center in St. Pete at 11 and 12 o’clock at night, just rehearsing, just singing.

Mobley and Green would join up with three other singers and win a few talent contests at St. Petersburg’s old Royal Theater. They called themselves the El Quintos back then.

In 1962, Mobley was drafted into the Army.  Two years later, he returned to St. Petersburg and reconnected with his old friend Greene. The two of them started up again, this time as a duo. After a few performances around town, they learned that Miami was the place to be.

There was a lady that was from Miami in St. Pete.  She heard us sing and told us about the talent show at the Knight Beat club.

The Knight Beat was located inside the Sir John Hotel in Miami’s Overtown district. The club’s host was local legendary music promoter Clyde Killens who made the Knight Beat the epicenter of Miami rhythm & blues during the 1960s. Mobley and Greene decided to make their way to Overtown. They hitched a ride from a friend named Clifford and arrived in Miami one afternoon in 1964, heading straight to where the action was: the Sir John Hotel.

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We just went down for the talent show and we were gonna come back, but people accepted us and applauded us. So we decided to stay in Miami.

Mobley and Green, who called themselves Them Two, were offered a slot on the club’s popular weekend show known as the Fabulous Sir John Revue.

They had the dancers, and they had Willena Mack…, and then me and Larry came on right before the featured artists came on. All the stars that came into Miami to sing at the Knight Beat, we opened the shows for those singers.

Them Two featuring  Larry Greene (left) and Larry Mobley (right)

Them Two featuring Larry Greene (left) and Larry Mobley (right)

Clyde Killens’ club attracted the crème de la crème of black entertainment: Sam Cooke, Count Basie, Jerry Butler, Sam & Dave, Etta James.

And then there was Joe Tex.

Joe Tex

Joe Tex

You know he really got mad at us because the crowd…, oh man, when me and Larry got on the stage and started singing, the crowd just ate us up, you know. And Joe

Tex got a little aggravated that he had to follow us.

But he was known for that. He always wanted to be the one who brought down the house.

Mobley says Them Two didn’t perform in the hard soul, church-like style of Miami’s reigning duo Sam & Dave that was popular at the time. Them Two were more classic R&B.

We didn’t do any outrageous dances on the stage. Whenever we came on, our voices had women doing a thing in the audience.

We sang, and women loved our songs.

During the year 1967 came Them Two’s big break. Willie Clarke, co-owner of the local record label DEEP CITY RECORDS wanted their voices on a track.  The music track to Am I a Good Man had already been recorded and arranged by Clarke and his collaborator Clarence Reid.  Deep-City-Labels-12-and-45-copy3-1440x279Mobley and Green were brought into the studio, rehearsed it a couple of times and then once the recording light was on, they sang the hell out of it.

I’m telling you that was the only time that we had ever been to the studio. It was a nice recording and we liked it.

In July 1967, the record was released.  The song has been described by music lovers as one of the “enduring masterpieces” of Miami’s soul music scene of the 1960s. But it wasn’t all that well received at the time of its release.  Actually, it wasn’t well played by DJs and without radio play there was no other way of generating mass appeal.

You know disc jockeys back in those days, … payola, you know. They got money under the table to play things.

Me and Larry used to go to different radio stations and talk with the DJs and while we were there they would play it. We went down to W.F.U.N. which is a white station down in South Miami and we talked with one of the disc jockeys and he played it a couple of times on the radio.

DJs back in those days were money crazy. A lot of money was being put under the table to play songs, you know.

Mobley implies they were doomed from the outset.

Sam & Dave was the group that was out from Miami at that time. And then came Betty Wright, and after that, you know, Henry Stone, …  he was a Jewish guy that had a lot of money and they had their agendas with the musicians that they catered to. So I don’t know. Me and Larry never did get on board.

Incidentally, Henry Stone has admitted to his involvement in paying DJs off in a book recently published titled “The Stone Cold Truth on Payola in the Music Biz.” Payola happened back in those days. DJs got money, girls, booze, coke. Whatever they wanted, and in return, they’d play the records. Its no secret that this was a common method to promote a black artist’s music to a white DJ in the 1960s. Some artists got their due. Others missed out.

Larry Mobley today

Larry Mobley today

Am I a Good Man was one of those that missed when it was first released.  But artists like 50 Cent, or the Showtime series Hung (which used the song in its premier episode), or any number of creative outlets and outliers have resurrected the song for a new generation.

Mobley didn’t know any of this, at least not until our most recent conversation.

In today’s world, a multi-millionaire rap artist can use the music of an original Miami soul classic, lay down a rhyming lyrical vocal track and the video can draw 3.7 million views on YouTube.  On the other side of that soul classic, there’s a man who sang the original vocal track on the song and he doesn’t even own a computer.

In 2007, Mobley and his wife relocated to a retirement community in Tamarac, Florida after a bank foreclosed on their Miami home.  Every month, he receives two checks in the mail: one from the Social Security Administration and a second one from Miami-Dade County (he’s been a retired Veteran Service officer since 1991).  On Thursdays, Mobley picks up groceries from the local church near his home. I’m not ashamed to say it, he tells me.

Am I a Good Man never amounted to much for Larry Mobley. Yet it remains close to him, literally. He has an original copy of the 45 RPM record in his home. He keeps it inside a book where its been stored for a while, untarnished by dust or decay, like a lasting memory.

The last time he heard the record was a few years ago when he was still living in Miami.

I used to sit and just play it over and over, turn it up loud because we had this huge Florida room and we had these big 15-inch speakers and I used to play it, over and over.

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End Note:

The other member of Them Two, Larry Greene, was killed in an automobile accident more than 20 years ago.  Mobley was one of the pallbearers.

Copyright © 2013 Long Play Miami

Woe Ain’t Me – Reflections of a Florida Blues Man

2013-03-15 21.32.27Joey Gilmore is a blues man, but not the kind that brings you down.

Whether as a response to discrimination, poverty, injustice, or simply a lost love, traditional blues music has forever been synonymous with melancholy and human misery. You’d think that blues singers were the same; always feeling, well…, blue. If so, then Joey Gilmore is the light that cracks through that stereotype.

See the thing about blues, well, you know that’s what R&B means, rhythm and blues. It’s blues with rhythm to where you can dance.

There was such a stigma about the blues [back in the day]. Blues was mostly considered music for poor people; poor, black and ignorant…

The sad part is that people miss out on so much about the blues because there’s such a terrible misconception about it.

Blues is great music, man.

Gilmore, 68, plays blues with an upbeat. He uses guitar progressions and rhythms that make you feel good, even if [he] used to wake up every morning, to get to work by nine, but then [he] lost his job and now [he] can’t even borrow a dime.

Gilmore was born in Ocala, Florida. By the time he was 5 years old, he was an orphan.  His mother passed away and his father ran off, leaving him and 7 brothers and sisters behind. The children moved in with whoever would take them. Aunts, uncles, cousins. Young Joey found solace in music.

I started banging around on tin cans, buckets and barrels and stuff. Whatever I could find a beat on.

He taught himself well enough that he was invited to join the high school band at Lincoln Park High as a drum major. Gilmore also taught himself guitar and started his own band at 14. One afternoon, the band was invited to play a gig at the opening of a gas station in Mascotte, FL.  The year was 1959, and small Florida towns like Mascotte were deep into segregation, much like the rest of the south. Gilmore’s band proved to be quite popular at the event. People were dancing, mingling, integrating. And then, from a distance, Gilmore saw a truck. As it approached, he could make out the passenger. It was Fred Thomas, then Mascotte’s mayor and chief of police.

He came stormin’ in… while the party is going on. Rolled in with his foot dragging out the door. The car didn’t hardly stop long enough.  In those days they had one of those big long whip antennas and the dirt road wasn’t paved like they are now and he come in with a cloud of dust behind ‘em and the whip antennae just going back and forth…He jumped out the car and came over and said, I ain’t gonna have it, I ain’t gonna have it, I ain’t gonna have these nee-gees and white folk mixing in my town.

He broke the party up and everybody had to go home.

It was funny. 

To others, the memory might have had a lasting emotional effect. But to Gilmore, it plays like a comedy. He goes on to say it was no big deal, we got through it. ‘It’ being the ‘it’ that segregated people by the complexion of their skin, the period when whites and blacks stood at diametrically opposite ends of the social ladder. And Gilmore’s reaction, some 50 years later? It was no big deal.

For the most part…, blacks and whites got along better [back then] than they do today.

That’s how Joey Gilmore carries himself.  He doesn’t let things make him blue.

And in return, the universe seems to bestow goodness onto him.

In 1962, after graduating from Lincoln Park High, Gilmore was looking for a proper reason to leave his hometown of Groveland (FL).  One day, Gilmore received a phone call that would change the course of his life. It came from his brother-in-law who lived in Miami. The call went something like this: Hey Joey, Frank William’s band is looking for a guitarist. Do you want to come down here?

Soon after, he was on a Greyhound bus, one-way ticket stub in hand. Gilmore arrived in Miami on a Sunday. By the following Wednesday, he was performing at Cafe Society in Overtown with Frank Williams & the Rocketeers, one of Miami’s most popular R&B bands of the 1960s. But the progression from Groveland to the Cafe Society stage wasn’t so linear.

After meeting Frank Williams that Sunday, Gilmore learned that the band was actually looking for a bass guitarist, not a lead guitarist. They told him he had three days to learn how to play it.  Gilmore got to work.

They had a dressing room upstairs over the stage. That’s where I would go, every day, day and night, and practice on bass.

It turned out Gilmore was no stranger to the bass guitar.

When I was at home, I used to get on my back porch, turn my record player on, get me a stack of records and I would take my amplifier and I’d turn all the treble off the amplifier, nothing but bass. Just turn the bass wide open and turn the volume up high so I can get that punchy sound. And I’d take my guitar and tune the strings down…and I would sit down with the record player and play the bass line on every song.

The Wednesday night performance at the nightclub went smoothly and launched Gilmore’s professional career, one that would figure prominently in Miami’s surging inner city nightclub scene of the 60s and 70s.

Frank Williams & the Rocketeers. Gilmore is second from left.

Frank Williams & the Rocketeers. Gilmore is second from left.

Gilmore played bass guitar with the Rocketeers for two consecutive years until 1964 when he joined the Army. When he returned after a two-year stint, Frank Williams had found a replacement, bringing in Arkansas-native guitar virtuoso, Willie (Little Beaver) Hale. No worries. Frank Williams formed a new band for Gilmore and named them The Rocketeers No. 2.  And this would be Gilmore’s band. He would play lead guitar and often handle lead vocals.  The Rocketeers No. 2 performed at popular nightclubs in Overtown and Liberty City, among them, Double Decker Lounge, Mister James Club, and the Continental Club. This went on for a few years.

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Then in January 1971, The Big Break: R-1550594-1227729210

Gilmore cut his first ever record as lead. The song was written by Little Beaver and titled, Somebody Done Took My Baby And Gone. It was issued on Frank William’s independent label, SAADIA RECORDS, which was named after one of his twin daughters.

The record was then reissued two months later by the Philadelphia soul label, PHIL-LA-OF SOUL, one of the major soul labels of that time.

It was a national hit record. It was in the top 10 on every soul radio station in the country.[1]

I ask him to tell me about that experience.

Sad to say it but I was green as grass. I didn’t know anything about the business end of it so consequently I never got a dime from none of it.

But I had popularity as far as going to different towns and playing. I had radio play all over the place. I would go to places and it was like wow, this is superstar. But I didn’t know it. I thought I was a band player.

When he says he was green as grass, he means it. Joey Gilmore got ripped off by concert promoters over and over again. He didn’t have a manager to help him with those things. He says all he knew how to do was put a band together and play music.

But Gilmore doesn’t dwell on it, and we move on.  gilmore45

In 1976, Gilmore signed with the Henry Stone label, BLUE CANDLE, a division of TK Records. He released a few singles and a self-titled (Joey Gilmore) funk album.

He rode that wave for a few years.

Musicians thrive on the whims of the public but that can be risky because things might be roaring today and tomorrow it’s different. That’s the way the music world is, constantly up and down.

Gilmore then turned to blues music.  In 1989, he released So Good To Be Bad, a blues album in the style of his hero, B.B. King. The record landed him gigs overseas, including a 12-week tour in Switzerland.

Since then, Gilmore has recorded four additional blues album, the last two titled The Ghosts of Mississippi Meet the Gods of albumsAfrica (2006) and Bluesman (2008), both to critical acclaim. A few years ago, he won the prestigious International Blues Challenge awarded by The Blues Foundation of Memphis, TN. These days, he’s still going strong. This summer he’s booked to play blues festivals in Austria, Italy, and Germany. You may occasionally get a glimpse of the man performing at the Sunday Jazz Brunch in Fort Lauderdale. And when you listen to Joey Gilmore play the blues, don’t expect melancholy.  Not from him.

Everybody has stories and you want to spend time whining about yours? [No way.] I could be down in the dumps and I turn on the TV or go out and talk to people and man, if you listen for awhile, you say, I ain’t got no problems. Homeless people… and people who don’t have jobs.

Every day I wake up on the green side of the earth is a blessing to me.

I don’t let anything get me down.

… even if somebody done took his baby and gone.  Here is Gilmore’s 1971 hit song:

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Footnote:

[1] I checked the Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B Hits, an anthology that covers the period 1942-2004. While Gilmore’s song Somebody Done Took My Baby and Gone does not appear to have cracked the Hot R&B chart in 1971, a reflection more of the times, in the 1940s, there were 2 similarly titled songs that did garner a mention: Somebody Done Changed The Lock On My Door (Louis Jordan, 1945) and Somebody Done Stole My Cherry Red (Eddie Vinson, 1949).

Copyright © 2013 Long Play Miami

The Clarence Reid Session

If one could get paid for giving interviews, Clarence Reid might just be a rich man. But you have to pin him down first, and that’s not easy.

For three months I tried to schedule this interview but he’d either cancel, fail to show up, or send an excuse through his manager, Tom. So when we finally sat down at the Miami Jai Alai one morning last week, I was keen on not letting him drift away. (At least physically.)

Who is Clarence Reid?

He is credited with co-writing and/or arranging more than 220 songs since 1963 for mostly Miami independent record labels. He also released over 30 albums, singles, or EPs of his own. This makes him arguably the most prominent and prolific contributor to Miami’s 60s and 70s soul music scene.

Reid’s back story begins in Cochran, a rural town spread across 4.2 square miles in the belly of the State of Georgia.

When I was about 6 years old, all the blacks up there, they had this thing that if you’re black you’re supposed to listen to the blues like B.B. King and all of that stuff.

I didn’t like blues. Everything is wrong.

The corn don’t roll, the hen don’t lay… I didn’t like it.

I liked the hillbilly music. I would get [that music] and change them around in my own stuff.

Shittin’ in the morning sun / I’ll be shittin’ till the evening come / watching my turds fall in / then I take them back out again. [parody of Otis Redding classic]

…the blacks [would say]…, you’re disgusting’…, but the white people loved it.

He performed around Cochran and he says the white folks ate it up. He’d get paid for it too, sometimes coming home with as much as 90 or 100 dollars or about 10xs what some of the workers were making in the rural fields.

On the road again / Just can’t wait to get on the road again / the Hershey highway means ass, where all the turds have ever been / I can’t wait to get on the road again. [parody of Willie Nelson classic]

When his grandmother found out how he made the money, she was incensed:

You’re a disgrace to the black race and you ain’t no better than a blow fly.

And I said, ‘what the heck is a blow fly?’

A blow fly is a black and red and green insect, they lay eggs on dead things, they turn into maggots, she’d say.

And so BlowFly was born. (More on that later.)

The interview continues.

When Reid first moved to Miami, he hooked up with a number of local music people: Willie Clarke of Deep City Records, Henry Stone of Tone Distributors (and later TK Productions).  In 1963 he recorded Like White on Rice on Stone’s DADE Label, a ballad that was been described as ‘a strong vocal performance backed with a pumping piano and some fine horns’ by at least one soul music enthusiast I found through my research.

In 1969, Reid had his biggest hit, Nobody But You Babe [ALSTON]. The song peaked nationally at #7 on the R&B charts. But after that, commercial success as a frontman (at least as “Clarence Reid”) was hard to come by. Yet he continued to thrive in the songwriting field.

He wrote early hits for Betty Wright, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Gwen McCrae, a trio of artists that dominated the Miami R&B/soul/early disco scene from 1968-1974.

He tells me about the song he wrote for Gwen McCrae, Rockin’ Chair, which reached #9 on the U.S. pop charts and #1 on the soul charts in 1975.

Back in the day, … the wife would tell her daddy, hey daddy, you want me to rock you in my rockin’ chair?

Yeah.. That [song] means fucking.

This thought process is a good segue into what inspired Reid to don a mask and a cape and create  an alter ego known as BlowFly. Reid’s Blowfly was a foul-mouth performer of parodied songs like the Otis Redding or Willie Nelson classics mentioned above. He is considered the original dirty rapper predating the likes of Miami’s own 2 Live Crew by more than a decade.

As BlowFly, he released Rap Dirty in 1971, considered the first ever dirty rap recording, and continued with a string of albums throughout the 70s and 80s. They were called ‘party records’ back then because they were only played at house parties. The records were sold clandestinely behind the counter at select record shops because of the profanity not only in the lyrics and song titles but also the cover art which often featured topless women. (BlowFly was featured in the 2010 documentary, The Weird World of Blowfly.)

Yet despite all the profane, misogynist-like rap songs he recorded as BlowFly, Clarence Reid had a deep respect for women. He wanted them to be strong. He appreciated them, protected them, pedestal-ed them. He manifested these emotions in a kinder gentler way through his other compositions.

About the Miami Soul classic Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Can Do (and Still be a Lady) [Betty Wright, ALSTON, 1969]

.. I couldn’t understand. If you had 5 women at 1 time, you was a lover or a Casanova. But if your sister dated two guys, she was a whore. I just couldn’t understand it. So I came up with that record,. …That was big on the charts, top 10.

Or about Don’t Make the Good Girls Go Bad [Della Humphrey, ARCTIC, 1968]

People used to say about this girl or that girl… ‘she’s a whore’ and everything…, I would get mad, ‘you all made her that way’. I remember this boy would take his sister with him on dates. Then he’d say I’ll be right back and had guys give him money to leave his sister there so they can bang her. This was in Georgia back then…All the girls, they weren’t bad, [the guys] would make them go bad. .. that’s when I came up with that song.

I ask him if he’s still in touch with any of the singers he composed for. No, he says, with a little bit of bitterness.

Someone tells them, you’re big enough to go on your own now. What they don’t understand is that I created stuff from scratch. I don’t care how good the other manager was, if you can’t create shit, you’re gone. That’s the way it was.

But Reid doesn’t really have any regrets. In fact, he doesn’t even give me a chance to ask him about regrets. He’s already onto the next topic, a song he wrote that was sung by Vanessa Kendrick.

How can I do what’s right / When what I need is wrong / how can I follow the rules of love / when love won’t let me be strong.

Then he parodies Christmas carols.

Silent night / holy night / your p#ssy’s so loose / were it once so tight.

Then he asks me my astrological sign and then dazzles with a dirty song about being a Libra. He turns around and serenades a woman having a Coke next to us. This is Clarence Reid a/k/a BlowFly and its the show of the day at the Miami Jai Alai.

The previous week at the Ricochet Lounge in Midtown Miami he said he performed in front of a packed house as BlowFly. (I saw him play at The Stage earlier this year. He can still work a crowd.)

At the end of this month he’s headed to Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Portland. He says the crowds are diverse. Young, old, black, white, ‘even the Spanish’ line up to see him perform these days. And one thing is certain…

When they come to my show, they leave happy.

Copyright © 2012 Long Play Miami

The Legend of Henry Stone

So much has been published about Henry Stone that by now, at the age of 92, you’d think he’d be tired of talking about it. And you’d be wrong. Last week, during a delightful and energetic phone interview that lasted about an hour, he waxed poetic on his iconic past and his undeniable influence on the music industry.

I’m getting people from over the world calling me saying, ‘Henry Stone, you’re still alive? My God, what you did for me and my music…’

What he did for music, in general, is remarkable. And Miami should be forever grateful for that whole putting-this-city-on-the-map thing.

I like to think that the long and storied legend of Henry Stone started with what he described as a chance meeting that occurred here around 1950. Stone had just recently relocated his small record distribution business to Miami from Los Angeles. He moved the business into a warehouse on West Flagler Street. He also purchased a recording machine.

I always had a studio in my back pocket.

Stone quickly found a niche selling to local jukebox operators the controversial “race” records that wouldn’t (couldn’t) be played at mainstream venues. He sold to nightclubs, lounges, brothels and other underground venues. One night he was at a club in Overtown when he witnessed a young and up & coming Ray Charles perform. After the show, the two got to talking.

[Ray] said, ‘I heard you make records, man. I need some bread. Could you cut some sides with me?’

I said, sure. So I made a deal to cut 4 sides, which we did.

Back at Stone’s warehouse, Ray Charles recorded four original tracks: Walkin’ and Talkin’, Why Did You Go, I’m Wondering and Wondering, and St. Pete Florida Blues. It was one of Ray Charles’ first recording sessions and arguably paved the way for him to get noticed by national labels such as Atlantic Records.

Stone would continue to grow his record distribution company [Tone Distributors], eventually moving to Hialeah, FL, and becoming the most successful independent distribution company over the last half century.  Stone had connections with all the major labels and independent labels so they’d go to him to get their records out to the DJs. Getting records played was one of his biggest assets, he said. He built rapport with all the DJs.

It was easy really. The DJs came to me.

We had all the hits. The majors [labels] had maybe 3 or 4 hits. Elvis Presley, maybe Tony Bennett or something. That was it.  The other 90 percent of the charts were all independents.  When the DJs needed a record, especially R&B records, they had to come to me.

Like this, he went on for years, amassing a record distribution empire.

But his “real love” was making records. The Ray Charles tracks are treasured gems today but they didn’t exactly burn up the charts back then. 

His first big record came in 1959 when he recorded James Brown’s band, Nat Kendrick & the Swans with “(Do the) Mashed Potatoes”. James Brown sang back-up on the original track but it wasn’t supposed to go down like that.

I had to take him off [the track] because he was under contract to King Records.

I said, James, I can’t use your voice, we’ll end up in a lawsuit.

Stone removed Brown’s vocal track from the original recording and replaced it with King Coleman, an R&B singer from Tampa. The final record – sans James Brown –  was released on Stone’s “Dade” label and went very big on the R&B charts.

Meanwhile, literally on the other side of the train tracks, Miami homegrown soul cuts were taking off in the mid 1960s under labels like Deep City Records and Lloyd Records out of Overtown.  Stone saw an opportunity.

I used to distribute [Deep City] records. I saw when I put their records on the radio I’d get a terrific reaction. So I said why don’t you guys come and record for me.

Those “guys” he’s referring to included Willie Clarke, Betty Wright, and Clarence Reid. They, along with the session musicians, ultimately joined Stone in 1968 and immediately began putting out hit songs. Betty Wright’s “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do” was #1 on the local R&B station in July 1968, and reached #33 on Billboard’s National Top 40.

In 1969, Stone combined his music production business under one entity, TK Productions, and started creating record labels such as TK Records and others that from 1971 – 1979 produced R&B and Pop Chart hits the world over. They had a major breakout hit in 1971 with Clean Up Woman by Betty Wright. Written by locals Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke, with guitar licks provided by bluesman Willie “Little Beaver” Hale, Stone knew he had something special.

I saw that record was going to be a big record. I wanted to get national distribution so I made a deal with Atlantic.

The song reached #1 on the national R&B charts and peaked at #6 on the Top 40.

The predominant, distinguishable element in Miami soul music of that time was the horn section.  And Stone was no stranger to brass.

I used to be a horn player [trumpet].  I loved the horn licks. Mike Lewis (who arranged his horn sections at TK) had some great horn licks. I used a lot of them [in the records]. It was all planned out.

Motown had their their sound, Stax had their sound, Philly had their sound.

We had our own Miami Sound.

He says the “Miami Sound” really took off in the 1970s when local R&B, soul, and Latin beats converged and crossed over to influence the burgeoning disco craze.

This was the Miami Sound. Not Gloria and Emilio [Estefan], that’s not the Miami Sound. That’s a Latin sound, a good Cuban sound, …

The Miami Sound was in the 70s when we had almost 30 platinum and gold records…

which I’m looking at my wall right now.

Today, if one goes to his website, you can find his entire catalog of music. Ray Charles, Nat Kendrick, KC & The Sunshine Band, Foxy, Anita Ward, all the hits, all the B-sides.

I wanted a lot of different sounds. I always kept my original sound but I had to progress, which I did. Our sound was heard all over the world at that time. TK was so hot. I didn’t realize how big we were. Every country… our records were #1. Hit after hit.

And, the 1970s were king.

I had the 70s. The 70s was me…

I remember Berry Gordy [of Motown] calling me and saying ‘Henry, what the fuck are you doing, man?’

I said, ‘I’m doing what I’m doing, man….you had yours, now this is mine.’

Those were good times, right? But Stone has a different take.

They were just normal times to me. This is what I did. I didn’t know anything else.

When I got up in the morning after breakfast I went to work. I worked 24/7 if I had to to keep the studio going.

And out of a good ole’ fashion thing called hard work, this is what came about through all the years.

Here is Henry Stone’s first hit song from 1959.

 

 

 

[TK photos courtesy of Jeff Lemlich]

Copyright © 2012 Long Play Miami

 

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Update: Henry Stone passed away on August 7, 2014. Rest in Peace, Henry.

When Nassau Went Funky in Hialeah

In 1971, the Henry Stone label, ALSTON RECORDS, signed a group from the Bahamas called The Beginning of the End. The ominously named group was comprised of three brothers (Ray, Roy, and Frank Munnings), and a fourth musician (Fred Henfield) who played bass guitar. They recorded their first album titled Funky Nassau in Stone’s Hialeah studio, which was released in 1972 on both the ALSTON label and ATLANTIC label. The lone hit of that album was the title track. The song has a funky festive Calypso “doggone” beat and celebrates all things funky about the Bahamas including “mini skirts, maxi skirts, and afro hairdos”.

ALSTON’s producer Willie J. Clarke was assigned to handle this group because, as he says, they were “difficult.”

No one wanted to work with them. They were notorious…like a kick-your-ass type group. They’d get mad with you and start talking in that Bahamian tone and next thing you know they were in your face with all them muscles.

During the sessions, the band’s entourage included a muscled enforcer type.  No one really knew who he was. When they finished recording the album, some of the band members came up to Clarke and made an unusual request: They wanted to take the original recordings with them. Clarke said no. They insisted. “We want the tapes, mon,” he recalls.

I said.. you can’t take the tapes out of the studio…

and then that muscle bound guy came and said ‘give us the tapes, mon. Give us the tapes, or I’ll kill you.’

Clarke more than obliged.

Here… take the tapes. See any more on the shelf you want? Help yourself. Just don’t kill me.

Fortunately for all of us, the band brought the tapes back and no one was knocked off.

Here’s the hit song titled Funky Nassau #1. It reached #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Charts, and #7 on the R&B Charts in 1972. Note the ever present horn section that was synonymous with the Miami Sound.

Copyright © 2012 Long Play Miami