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

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

The Resilient Soul of Mr. Clarke

Willie J. Clarke is a good man.  But he’s been done wrong a few times.

The interview in his Hialeah apartment begins with my showing him a compilation double album I bought a few months ago – Miami Sound: Rare Funk & Soul from 1967-1974. The songwriter and music producer says it reminds him of the worst thing that happened to him in the music business, that he was just so in love with the writing and creating, he didn’t manage his business affairs right.  Then he adds that he wonders why he doesn’t get paid “real money” as a result of having so much “material” out there.  He tells me he doesn’t want to talk about the re-issue label from Chicago that, with his assistance and support, produced compilation records like the one I just showed him featuring a lot of the music he wrote back in the day. They made him promises, he says. Financial promises. He says he’s “still keeping what you might call faith” but it makes him nauseous how they failed him.

Clarke goes on.  He says the worst offenders are musicians who use his music as their own.  (Artists steal music from each other time and again, especially hip hop artists who sample music. And the more original and unique songs, especially from an era when licensing fees and royalties weren’t considered a priority, are the most vulnerable.)

I think he’s being particularly hard on himself. After all, some things you can’t control.

Clarke reaches for some papers on his desk and hands them to me. It’s his BMI royalty statement. BMI is a global company that collects licensing fees and distributes them as royalties to songwriters and musicians.

10 cents here, 5 cents there, he says, just enough to pay the light bill.*

The man who’s written soul lyrics about women, advising them not to be done in by the men in their lives, has been done in.

But then the good man changes his tune and fires into nostalgia.

We had 6 or 8 rhythm sections. There were certain sounds. If we wanted to do a ballad, we’d get Little Beaver, my blues guy was best for that. If we wanted to cut something really fast and danceable, I’d get KC [of Sunshine Band notoriety]. .. He was funky.  There was keyboard player Timmy Thomas, …Robert ‘Shotgun’ Johnson, … a Cuban guy named Julio… We had jazz people, blues people, even a guy from Belle Glades named Melvin Carter who sang if you see a man walking the streets tonight, don’t be afraid. Don’t worry, its only me, I got pains in my heart. And Snoopy Dean [guitar], he was good. He’d start chewing that bubblegum and lean back.

Throughout all this, Clarke mimicks a bass player, a piano player, even Snoopy Dean leaning way back jamming his guitar. He makes this sound or that sound. The soul man is on a roll.

Clarke was born in the small rural community of Fort Gaines, Georgia but moved to Miami when he was four. He attended college at Florida A&M and played tenor drum in the marching band. There, he began composing music. He says voices would come to him and recite poetry in his head. He then tells me he can write a song in 10, 15 minutes. I think about testing him on the spot but I can’t fathom a topic that would meet his criteria.  Clarke wrote songs with meaning, with a message, a strong message. Many of them were about empowering women. He didn’t write about racial discrimination or racial injustices. There were broader themes he wanted to address in the music. These songs were about love, loss, and everything in between.

His peers were strong songwriters too. He talks about Willie “Little Beaver” Hale. Mama forgot to tell me that the world was about to change. Can you tell me who’s to blame. Nothing can remain the same, people even change their name… And my papa was even nowhere around, my papa was somewhere getting down. He tells me this is the story of the ghetto child, the hard life that you gotta face.

After college he spent a lot of time at Johnnys Record Shop in Liberty City which belonged to his business partner Johnny Pearsall. (The two of them later would start Deep City Records, which ran from 1964-68 and produced some of the best soul music around.)

In the back room we had a little rehearsal room. Just enough to jam a piano in there. We’d rehearse every day before we went to the studio… The girls would come by. We’d have late night parties there.

But Clarke was serious about the music. So serious he set goals for himself. Three goals, in fact.  (1) To get radio play; (2) to have a gold record (back then, 1 million records sold), and (3) to have a platinum record (2 million sold).

I ask him what song broke the cherry as far as radio play. It was The Pot Can’t Talk About the Kettle by Helene Smith, considered Miami’s First Lady of Soul. Released on one of Clarke’s labels, Blue Star,  in 1963, it has been called the “ultimate Miami collectible” record. The first pressing of the 45 RPMs totaled only 300 records.

Thank God for DJs who were, what you might call, compassionate. That was one of the wildest recordings… It’s about the rawest sound you ever want to hear on a record.

He tells me if he could record that song today it would sound much better but he likes the raw sound.

The ironic thing about having a good song. ..Sometimes you cannot sacrifice feel for perfection. Perfection is boring. Every now and then you have a little tweety bird over here, a little bow wow in this corner. People will say, hey what’s coming out next? They start grooving to it.

When local music impresario Henry Stone came looking for Clarke (circa 1968) to entice him to come work for him and what would become TK Records in Miami, Clarke says he and Johnny Pearsall couldn’t agree on the move. (Reportedly, Pearsall wanted to go in a different direction with Helene Smith, i.e., sign with a national label. But on this day, Clarke recounts a different motive for Pearsall’s resistance.)

Johnny didn’t want to go [with Henry Stone]. We don’t need him, he’d say. We can do this ourselves.   To be realistic, Johnny didn’t like mingling too much with white people ’cause as a little boy he grew up seeing the brothers being tarred and feathered. He was exposed to some prejudices and bigotry up there [in Tallahassee]… I wasn’t exposed to that kind of stuff in Miami.  Johnny tried real hard to overcome these things but there are some things in life you can’t overcome.  

Clarke and Pearsall eventually split, and so went Deep City Records. Clarke took his talents to Hialeah [site of Henry Stone’s recording and distribution business]. And I mean all of his talents.  Guitarist Little Beaver, diva Betty Wright, James Knight & the Butlers. Songwriters, vocalists, musicians. And that FAMU sound.

Joining with Henry Stone was a genius move.  Success came quick with the 1968 Betty Wright single Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do. And times were good.

I used to get up early in the morning especially during the summer when school closed [his other job was as a middle school art teacher].  When I’d get to the studio, they’d be waiting outside, the drummer and the guitar player.  And they’d say, come on, lets cut somethin’ [music]… But first lets start with this.

Oh, you brought some Red Rooster [wine]?

…and we’d drink a couple of bottles of Red Rooster and get up there and jam all morning, all day long.

About the first gold record which he achieved in 1971, he said,

One day I came to TK Records from teaching in South Miami. Henry Stone was happy sitting behind the desk. He said, Willie, have some rum and coke.

I said, whats all the party about, Henry?

He said, remember those guys from Atlantic Records that were here? Well, they told me to tell you you got a big smash hit with Clean Up Woman.

Clarke called the principal at the middle school and submitted his resignation.

The platinum record came a few years later.

—–

Since I first started writing about this topic I have heard varying opinions about what exactly is the Miami Sound. Henry Stone has said that it was during the disco years of the 70s when they had hit after hit at TK Records. They even marketed the moniker under the TK label circa 1978. But Clarke disagrees with that notion. He says it started with the Deep City music.

[Local musicians] Them Two, The Moovers, Helene Smith, and Little Beaver, that’s what I would say was the Miami Sound. Why? Because that was the music that was the attention-getter here in Miami. When it hit the radio, it made a big bang. Henry Stone wanted to know who we were.

I ask him what made this Miami Sound unique.

Two words, he says, “color blind.”

It was the most integrated society. People from everywhere. It was so mixed. When you look around there’d be different colors playing the same music.

Man, we had stiff competition. Motown, Philly, LA, Birmingham, all over. But because of the uniqueness of our sound, we were able to kind of like… ease right on through. We were different.

I can’t tell the difference between an LA sound and a NY sound. But you know a Miami Sound (snap his fingers) right off the bat.

Clarke receives a check every once in a while.  A few cents here and there.  Sometimes more. For example, Beyonce sampled Girls Can’t Do. She paid royalties. He says it was a big hit.**

Then he says,

Thank God for samples. Without samples, my life wouldn’t be all right, right now.

Copyright © 2012 Long Play Miami

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Update: December 6, 2012

* After reading this blog post recently, Willie Clarke called me and said he wanted me to acknowledge that “BMI is very important to him. They take really good care of Willie Clarke.”  I get where he’s coming from. [see next point] 

** Occasionally, royalty checks sum up to a lot more than just a few cents. 

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On July 18, 2012, this post was recognized:

The Beautiful Alternative Universe of Mingering Mike

As a kid we all dream of being superstars when we grow up, whether it’s a superhero, a sports star, a princess, or maybe a celebrity. Like many boys eager to score girls and status, I fantasized about being a rock star. In the sixth grade, I would doodle the name of our make-believe band in my Duo-Tang folder.  By eighth grade, I was playing air guitar solos in the bedroom which doubled as Wembley Stadium as girls from Catholic schools tossed their panties at my feet.  That was the extent of the pipe dream; just another typical teenage fantasy.

Back in our nation’s capital between 1967 and 1972, one teenager took the whole musician fantasy thing to new heights. He adopted the name Mingering Mike and he imagined himself a soul superstar. In his world he was the artist, the lyricist, the producer, the album cover designer, all at once. He came up with song titles and album titles and record company labels and then set out to make it as ‘real’ as possible using cardboard, scissors, markers and tape. He shaped the cardboard into albums and records. He drew the grooves on each of the records and created the labels for Sides A and B.  He’d draw up funky cover art and on the back of each album cover, the liner notes. Every detail imaginable, all from his bedroom in Washington DC.  Over the course of five years, he produced more than 50 albums.   

I tracked down the mystery man behind the artwork and spoke to him by telephone this week. He still lives in Washington D.C. and describes his age as “a young 60ish.” And he still maintains his secret identity as Mingering Mike. Of course there is a real person behind the secret identity, sort of any everyday Joe (but not really).

He told me all of his artwork (he calls them records) had been in storage for about 11 years but he fell back on the payments and when he returned one day to make a payment after some time had passed, the new owners had sold off all of his possessions. Then around 2005, a record collector discovered them in a flea market in Washington D.C.

He called me and said, I found your stuff. And I said, what stuff.. And in my ears, it sounded like someone with a smashed nose, if you know what I mean, and he expected me to ask – what do you want for it?

He met with the record collector “in a public place” and he was thrilled to be reunited with his “babies.” The collector, Dori Hadar, told him he had posted pictures on the web and there was a lot of interest in “Mingering Mike.” Subsequently Mr. Hadar, with Mike’s blessing, published a book called The Imaginary World of Mingering Mike and within months Mike was invited to travel to art exhibits in Amsterdam, London, North Carolina, Texas. But always in disguise. Fake mustache, fake beard, wig, the works. He doesn’t like having to tell people about his other identity. He says people have imaginary minds and they project certain things onto a superstar.

No one knows that Clark Kent is Superman…[The alter-ego] still gives me anonymity outside the Mingering Mike life. I could walk down the street and no one knows who I am. That’s good. That gives me less pressure.

He says someday if he gets to where he feels at ease he will reveal himself.  It’s so secretive even his closest friends don’t know this other side to him, he says.

I can see it being possible. When it does happen, my co-workers will say, ‘son of a gun.’

In the meantime he’s at work on a new ‘album’. It’s called “The Land of Opportunity”.  And he recently produced one that is part of an exhibit in California titled “The Return of the Magnificent Mingering.” And the cover?

It’s me, riding on a horse,… and I’m a cowboy.

Now that fantasy can be found at the Miami Art Museum’s The Record: Contemporary Art & Vinyl exhibit until June 10th. The exhibit, which was organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, is an homage to the vinyl record. Its worthy of a visit for any music enthusiast.  Sculptures, deconstructions, re-imaginings, and other forms of appreciation all celebrating the round plastic LP in a digital age of iTunes and MP3s.

But its Mingering Mike’s arsenal of records behind glass casings that is most impressive and pleasingly accessible. BOOGIE DOWN AT THE WHITE HOUSE, BROTHER OF THE DRAGON, GHETTO PRINCE, and the live album, THE MINGERING MIKE SHOW, LIVE FROM THE HOWARD THEATER, are just some of the many hit albums you’ll see on display by Mingering Mike, the most prolific musician you’ve never heard of.

More here at http://www.miamiartmuseum.org/exhibition_the-record.asp

Copyright © 2012 Long Play Miami