Tag Archives: Steve Talia

Talia’s Notes: Thoughts On The Passing of Dennis Edwards (The Temptations)

There were two eras of The Temptations which really mattered. I hope that’s not going to anger people in saying this. It’s what I feel within my musical soul. There were the David Ruffin/Eddie Kendricks era, and then the Dennis Edwards era. In my eyes, both were equally valid. And when you came to start seeing the world around you like I did during the period of 1968 on up to and including the end of 1974, everything that Dennis Edwards was singing about during that period of time nailed you to the core with the realism of the material they were putting out back then. “Cloud Nine”, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)” propelled that period in their career to heights which made musicians around them take notice.

Dennis Edwards was helping to lay the groundwork for people to get more bold in their choice of subject matter throughout the Soul Music community. What was going on at Motown during this period of time helped to put in the minds of fellow label-mates Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye a greater extension of boldness which nobody knew was coming. Those two would end up driving Berry Gordy nuts. That was a good thing. We would be all the better for it soon enough. They wouldn’t have been able to do so without the help of this period of time in the history of The Temptations. Each thing builds upon the other.

As time goes on, I get a little worried that people are going to overlook what Dennis Edwards did with that voice of his and taking the lyrics the of the Whitfield & Strong writing team and taking them to places that people needed to listen to. I also get to worrying that people are going to remember the Ruffin/Kendricks Era only. If you really want to know why the period of time that Edwards was in The Temptations really reflected the dark side the 60’s and early ’70s, then do yourselves a favor and try to track down a copy of the 2-CD set from 2003 that Universal put out called Psychedelic Soul. It covers the Edwards Era exclusively. Where it really succeeds as a collection worthy of being in your collection is that you get the long non single-edits versions of some great classics. “Psychedelic Shack” is 6:00 minutes long. An alternate mix of “Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)” is also included.

There’s also the long version of late 1972’s “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”. If you’ve lived thinking that the single you grew up on was great, then you really need to listen to full 12:01 version that was on the All Directions album. The single gives you the snapshot of reality (perfectly so, I might add). The album version lets you slip into the nightmare and live it for a while.

During a year that was filthy rich with great music being released, “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” justified its inclusion among being mentioned as one of the best singles of the year. It certainly was released at just the right time of the year. The weather around the country was starting to get cold. But it was essentially one of the best mass consumption singles because it was so perfectly crafted as music and as a statement. What I’m grateful for is that fans of the Dennis Edwards period of The Temptations won’t have to say that all he was known for was just “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”. Dennis Edwards added to the immortality of a group who had already set a pretty damned high bar as it was.

Talia’s Notes-Thoughts On The Passing Of Fats Domino

For many years, I have said the same thing to anybody who has been within earshot of me and had an ear for music.  If you can’t find yourself tapping your feet or just plain getting up and grooving along to “My Girl Josephine” from Fats Domino, then you need to have yourself rushed to your nearest local hospital and be examined to see if you still have a pulse.

Whenever I happened to be thinking of Fats Domino, that’s the one song of his that I always zeroed in on.  It may quite possibly have been the most joyously infectious rhythm inserted into a song ever presented to mankind.  If was I having a fine day, listening to it on the radio or at home made my day even better.  On the not so good days, I just buried myself into the groove even more and tried to will my way out of the despair surrounding me as if I was one of the musicians laying it down.  It’s got drive.  I’ve got Fats to thank for that.

Whenever I listened to his music, the one overriding thing I got out of it all was that he had to have had a huge heart.  Even the sad ones didn’t leave me sad.  He was just sayin’ it like it is and showing it while creating a party for you to enjoy along with every other groovin’ soul out of New Orleans.  It was all so genuine. It had not one iota of pretense.

Along with the songs and his piano playing, the thing I really dug about a ton of his music was the fact that he had this sax player with him on all of the big hits who embodied early Rock and roll.  He helped to embellish the joy that Fats was putting over on people.  His name was Herb Hardesty.  He died not too terribly long ago.  To think that they are both together again is something that’s making me smile.  Fats, Herb and Dave Bartholomew (the producer of the great records by Domino) helped to create some magic.

When I first heard “Blueberry Hill” back during the early ’70s period when there was a short-lived 50s revival going on on Top-40 radio, I was envisioning Fats hanging out with some woman he liked and had a thing for.  For some reason, I always saw him in a car with her as she was being woo’d by him.  Man, I was always pulling for him.  How could you not?

There was always the cultural mystique over Elvis Presley, the first guitar God, poet and trouble associated with Chuck Berry, the manufactured romantic archetype of Buddy Holly as a result of The Buddy Holly Story movie in the late ’70s and the fireball flaming freaks of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis etched in our minds.  Through it all, I always got the impression that Fats Domino got a little shortchanged in the importance department and that New Orleans, as a musical center for R&B, stayed relegated to a mysterious corner of our American musical heritage.

It shouldn’t be that way.

–Steve Talia

Talia’s Notes: Thoughts On The Passing Of Walter Becker (Steely Dan)

I was perusing Facebook posts this evening as I was taking in the news that Walter Becker of Steely Dan had passed away today.  There was a post amid the forest of others that made me think about what the passage of time might be about.  Sometimes I think the true mark of our aging comes from balancing what we’ve gained and then by what we’ve lost throughout the years.  I don’t know if I’m necessarily a lot older psychologically at this very moment now that I’m pondering Walter Becker and Steely Dan.  However, I think I’ve been educated by Becker and Donald Fagen into being ready for this moment because of the fact that I’m a product of a period in time when a harder edge to thinking took place culturally in the ’70s.

I’m feeling more prepared for this moment than I realize.  It’s because all of these articles I’ve been reading tonight about Becker have been mentioning about their sense of sarcasm and wit in their lyrics.  Yeah, there was that element.  That can’t be denied.  But it was also their sense of the obtuse which seemed to fit so perfectly with the ’70s.  The ’60s were literally over although it was still hanging on through in every other way at the end of 1974.  We had enough justification to let cynicism to creep into our daily vernacular and let it become a daily part of our lives.  We didn’t know where were going, but we sure knew where we had been.

So, if this column comes off more as being about Steely Dan than about Walter Becker, you must please forgive me.  As far as I’m concerned, the band that we knew as Steely Dan has officially passed away today.  And with it, cynical cool has gone into the ether with it.

From their first album in 1972, Can’t Buy A Thrill, on up to and including 1977’s Aja album, Steely Dan was as vital a force in the music business as any of their time.  The beautiful thing about Steely Dan was that you could take their sense of the obtuse and make it your own.  Steely Dan was a great band to protect yourself with. If you liked them and took them to heart, their mystery was your mystery.  You couldn’t figure them out and at the same time you couldn’t figure yourself out either.  You could take it with you and not reveal your own insecurities while while trying to figure out how it was that they managed to be so damned cool while, at the same time, being so damned hard to figure out.  Both on the AM and FM sides of the dial, they had the market cornered on mysteriousness.  Across the land, they were the subject of many a discussion at High School recesses and lunch periods regarding just what their songs actually meant.  And for those kids who were still in Grade School, they were a subject of discussion in general without letting your guard down too much because none of us knew what they were about. It’s just that they were so cool that we had to borrow some of their swagger whether it fit like proper fitting clothes or not.  For our times, it was just right.  We were all feeling a little harder edged and we didn’t even fully know why.  Because of their influence in my life, I can honestly say that I still don’t fully know why.  I’m now 55.

Back in late 1972, I started out on the single-edit of “Do It Again” and occasionally had the good fortune of having one of the Bay Area AM stations give us a treat and play the full album version.  I slid into the groove from the moment I first heard it and never let go.  The electric sitar break dazzled me.  All I had to do was make my own adjustments to the lyrics.  Once I did that, I was ready to go along with the ride in full (or until they made an album I didn’t take to-that came in 1980 and Gaucho).  “Reelin’ In The Years”, also from Can’t Buy A Thrill, was one of my major theme songs to my last season in Little League in the Summer of ’73 when my team won the Westside Little League Championship in Santa Clara.  I’d walk out over to third base and have it playing in my head while fielding grounders during practice.

When the Pretzel Logic album came out in 1974, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” was one of the calming (to me) songs of the Summer when I got sent off to Summer School and I rebelled against it with everything I had.  It was one of my pool-side and keeping company with mockingbird songs which will stay with me for eternity.

In the Summer of ’76, when The Royal Scam album was out and getting airplay, I would end up taking to heart “Don’t Take Me Alive” and then let it gradually grow into a song that defines some of the parameters about being stuck in Oregon that I deal with to this day.  It was if the song was placed into my own private little incubator and didn’t really get born until after I moved up here again.

In late 1977, Steely Dan released the Aja album.  It is still amazing to consider how that album was solid enough to grow into a major force clear through to the end of 1978.  That was the period of time when I moved back up to Eugene (Labor Day of ’78).  I can still remember listening to “Deacon Blues” on KSAN-FM San Francisco as I was packing my bags before the plane ride up.  When I got to Eugene, “Josie” and “Peg” took me through some of the transition to living up here for a second time and the great regret which was to sink in over doing so over time.  I’d see “Josie” and “Peg” as these fuzzy women whose faces I couldn’t see taking over the space in my thinking.

Sadly, it was in 1980 and when they released Gaucho that I hopped off.  I started seeing a distinction about Steely Dan that I hadn’t seen before.  Instead of being my cynical and obtuse heroes that they had been, I began to see them in a different light.  In my discovering people like Bruce Springsteen and, eventually, The Clash, I needed people with a hard edge who also could philosophically fight in my corner.  With Gaucho, I couldn’t see that Fagen and Becker could get through it all the way with me anymore.  I felt like Fagen (especially) wasn’t putting the sharp observations to good use anymore.  I realize that this all sounds very vague, but it was a distinct feeling I was having about them at the time.

I would not trade the period of Can’t Buy A Thrill on up to and including Aja for anything in the world.  It has been one of my big wishes that Universal would remaster their entire catalog and release their albums as Deluxe Editions.  I honestly don’t know if they left enough in the can to warrant Deluxe Editions of their albums.  It needs to be done. In the meantime, I plan on taking the protection they gave me and put it to use as much as I can wherever appropriate.  You will be missed, Walter Becker.  Thank you for the great taste in your personal musical choices and how it helped to shape your craft.

–Steve Talia

Thoughts On The Passing Of Cuba Gooding, Sr. of The Main Ingredient

One of the beautiful things about Soul Music during the early to mid-70s period (up to and including 1974) was that artists and groups could take their material in different directions freely. At least, it was the impression which one got as a result of different sounds becoming so progressively expansive as you flipped through the AM Top 40 dial. Lyrically, you could be as tough or as vulnerable as you wanted. However which way you chose, it was a period of time when one did not have to play to any musical stereotype. The Main Ingredient were one of those Soul outfits who stayed true to themselves. In looking back with hindsight, I could never figure out why their work was sometimes maligned by critics. If it wasn’t working, then why did “Everybody Plays The Fool” and “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” do so well in the charts?

Cuba Gooding Sr. put it over for all of us in a way I could relate to. And with “Everybody Plays The Fool”, he did it like he was a friend to all of us. He was saying he’s been through the same thing as you in your longing for that lady you had your eye on. “How can you help it when the music starts to play?/ And your ability to reason is wept away”? In another passage of the song, it has never gone out of my head of the image of how much love can take over your life and how it can stay with you so vividly that you could practically reach out and touch it. “Love runs deeper than any ocean/It can cloud your mind with emotion”. These were plain and simple words sung with confessional honesty to a friend.

“Everybody Plays The Fool” was released in the late Summer of 1972. It became a greeting song for all of us getting back to school in September. It didn’t matter what age you were. You knew you were going to fall down that path. There was going to be that one who was going to sweep you off of your feet that year in school. Cuba was just letting you know that you had a soundtrack to follow along to as you made that same trip into your own personal chaos that you could never break the habit of getting into in the first place. I thank him for being there to help me through because I did some serious falling myself back then. I still carry it with me because I still do the same thing 45 years later. It’s a continuous circle like everything in life.

And then came that last great year before,1974, just before the advent of Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” changed the dynamic of Soul Music and things began to morph into what we would come to call Disco. “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” continued with a great groove. He had the lady in that one and he had all of the cool to show for it. If that wasn’t enough, the guitar in that song just took the song where it needed to go. I wish more people could bring back the subject of all of the cool guitar players in Soul Music back then into the subjects of their conversations in music forums. The one in “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” had that great sting to it. Combined with Gooding’s vocal delivery, the Spring and early Summer of ’74 became that much better for its being there for you to shuffle along to in your mind or if you were riding on your back and had a transitor radio to get you through neighborhoods and traffic. I don’t know if it was the same for you, but ’74 was such a mellow and smooth-cool attitude time of the ’70s. I’ve said it before in tributes in the past that I’ve done here, but I’ve always thought that ’74 was the last year of the ’60s. Once the year was out and things worked their way towards the middle of ’75, the ’70s as a lot of us came to know had begun to set in. It had a different feeling and it was sneaking up on all of us-no exceptions.

For those of you who don’t know about it, there is an SACD hybrid (multi-channel) release of the Euphrates River album from the Vocalion label out of the U.K. which was released recently which any self-respecting Soul Music fan should own. It is the definitive sonic version of the album and a must have. Seek it out before it goes out of print (if it hasn’t done so already). It is fervently hoped that Vocalion can score the rights to release the Bitter Sweet album in the same format. “Everybody Plays The Fool” deserves to have a multi-channel release. We are so fortunate to have have had “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” make it.

There’s also another great release out there on CD which people should pick up from the U.S. label called Real Gone Music. It’s a two-fer CD (two albums on 1 CD) of the L.T.D. and Black Seeds albums from before 1972’s Bitter Sweet album from before and just after Gooding joined the group (after the passing of one of their original vocalists). The material stands up quite well up against the Bitter Sweet and Euphrates River albums. As with anything having to do with Real Gone Music, if you have any inclination for picking it up because you are serious about listening to this phase of the group, then you’ll want to get it as titles from Real Gone Music go out of print pretty fast.

The articles that are slowly trickling out are giving all indications that this may have been a particularly tragic passing. I don’t know all of the circumstances involved, but the passing of the Soul artists always hit me a little harder than some of the other music passings for the simple reason that their advancement in success was all of our success. My life is better for having had Soul artists and groups in it. They created a an important part of the tapestry of our musical lives which all too often gets forgotten.

–Steve Talia

Thoughts On Our Losing Chuck Berry

I won’t bother attempting to compete with all of the articles that are popping up like weeds upon the passing of Chuck Berry.  It would be pointless.  Those articles are bringing up all of the obvious and important points over why Chuck Berry was and still will be a musical institution around the world.  In light of this, I’d rather be short and sweet when it comes to Chuck and mention a few things not mentioned as often as they should.

First of all, anybody who could release a song like “Wee Wee Hours” could be forgiven for punching Keith Richards, tax evasion and setting up a camera system in a restroom at his place to watch women using the toilet.  With some artists, it’s not the songs which put them on the zenith of their craft in the eyes all of who followed them, it’s the songs they would plop themselves down into a chair for during the after-hours which can reveal to people where they really came from.  That Chuck Berry still managed to find the time and inclination to want to just hammer out a Blues tune is something which endeared me to him over the years.  It was painfully obvious to observe his genius-the combining of Country, Jazz and Blues into the drive which became Rock and Roll.  It was the Blues angle which I always wished got more attention.

In my eyes, “Wee Wee Hours” is the Chuck I will always take along with me for as long as I live.  I think of it as the true soul of Chuck.  It told me that he wasn’t forgetting where he came from while being an African American in this country and living through the hard game involving a real rigged system which was levied against him in his quest to become who he would become.  So much has been made of his imperfections in life.  Perhaps those hardships he endured during the early part of his career made him develop some really eclectic quirks?  He wasn’t perfect and he angered a lot of people because of those imperfections. Hell, I’d have loved to have punched him for some of the things he did-like changing tempos on famous name bands who backed him at gigs without notice and no rehearsals beforehand.

But as distanced as I was to chuck Berry and his orbit, as a fan, I could still forgive him for those transgressions because of his having the outright taste to do a song like “Wee Wee Hours”.  Hey, that’s my excuse.  We fans are nuts just for something like this that I’m explaining.  We have this strange thing we do.  We love to make saints out of people with whom you’d just assume strangle to death.  I just wish he could have cut whole Blues albums with Johnnie Johnson to go with all of the great Rock and Roll he gave us.  Universal would later compile an album of songs of his which were Blues cuts and made a CD out of it called Blues.  But he never, as far as I know, ever cut an entire Blues album.

Something also has to be said for his late great pianist Johnnie Johnson.  Let’s credit Keith Richards for saying it when Keith was trying to get Johnnie inducted separately into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Chuck would not have been who he was had he not had the framework of Johnnie’s Blues-based piano to work with. He never would have done his rhythm patterns like he did had he not had Johnnie to play off of.  It also influenced Chuck’s leads too.  In short, we might have never had Chuck combine the elements of Country, Jazz and crooning that he did and speed them up if it hadn’t been for Johnnie Johnson.

I am also thinking of a song like “Havana Moon” as well.  Again, for him to have come up with the great riffs that he did for all of the big hits, I can still think of him doing “Havana Moon”  It got him a little out of his element so that he could come back and be even better at the Rock and Roll gig with all of those elements coming gloriously together.

God!  I can still remember late 1972 and my being hit with Chuck Berry fever via my first copy of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out by The Rolling Stones and his then new version of the “Reelin’ And Rockin'” single during a small ’50s Roots Rock revival which was going on at Top 40 radio as a result of the popularity of the American Graffiti movie and the soundtrack which went with it.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, I was also hearing “School Days” being played on those AM stations for a short period of time.  I can’t even recall if it was re-released as a proper single that late Fall.  That revival helped me to make invaluable connections between the ’50s artists to ”60s artists.  I needed to make those connections.  My own evolution was calling out for it.  The timing was perfect and Chuck Berry played a huge role in all of it.

It was during that Fall that I fought with the meanest teacher I ever had during all of my years in school.  “School Days” gave me a great framework for rebellion.  It also gave me something to bang up against when I would discover other guitar players that I would develop huge admiration for.  Long live Rock and Roll.  Baby, you better believe it!  Over the years, all I had to do was remind myself not to think of Chuck’s problems with his own personality and let the music speak for itself.  I could save the subject of his quirkiness with all of my music friends I would develop over the years.  The music is what keeps you going when the friends aren’t there.

–Steve Talia

 

Talia’s Notes: Leon Russell

leon-russell-st-notesMy thoughts are so scattered as I type this. A short while ago, I found out that Leon Russell has passed away. For all of us in the music community, 2016 has felt like one long funeral procession. They’ve been coming one after the other.

There’s so many places where one could begin with Leon Russell. There are some great articles going around this evening from places like Rolling Stone Magazine and from The New York Times which can tell you all about Leon’s accomplishments as a singer, songwriter, pianist, session man, producer, bandleader and live revue leader. It’s all out there for people to learn about him if they choose to seek it. But I can’t go through all of his accomplishments here. I can only tell you about how I felt about Leon Russell over the years through my own prism.

Little did I know about it at the time, but Leon played on one of my favorite songs of all-time. It would take me many years later to learn that he played piano on Badfinger’s “Day After Day” back in 1971. He filled the spaces with such loving care for the song with those gentle waves emanating from the ivories. So many people focus, and rightly so, on the double guitar tracking of Pete Ham and George Harrison. Those guitars would not have had the natural fullness and effectiveness without Leon giving a deeper sound presence. His previous work as a session man gave him the gift of understatement when it came to working on the material of others. And in the case of this standout track from one of the greatest albums (Straight Up) of the early ’70s, Russell’s giving lift to a great song was no exception.

In August of 1972, I became a fan of The Rolling Stones. Again, it would take me until I got my first vinyl copy of Exile On Main Street before Leon would enter into my life again (even though my two older brothers had a copy of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs And Englishmen and I was getting bits of exposure to it at my young age at the time of which it was released). “Shine A Light” is one of the beacon performances on a 5-star album of which all of the players were key to the success of the album. What always knocked me out about the song was how the reverb in Mick Taylor’s lead guitar playing and Leon’s piano on that track seemed to come together so perfectly. Leon’s piano was the river of life running through it and Taylor’s guitar was the expression of love, pain and burnout all at once. It all seemed to flow together effortlessly just as the life we live and the river which takes all through the same places was destined to be the paradox which binds us and puzzles us all at the same time.

It was at the end of 1972 and into the early months of 1973 that Leon Russell specifically took root in my mind as someone I knowingly liked. He released the Carney album then. The single that came with it was “Tight Rope”. As someone who was in 5th Grade at the time, it puzzled the living hell out of me. But I sang along to as much of the lyrics that my hearing impaired ears could figure out and took it to heart. I’ve spent the better part of over 40 years trying to figure it out what it means. It takes on different meanings to different people. Some can see it as a performer’s career struggle between its own existence and ever-present possibility of being snubbed out. And there are those of us, like myself (when I finally got to see all of the lyrics through the magic of YouTube), who see the tune as being about the balance between life and death we all struggle with. Frankly, the song has grown so much more with me as it ages. It has an honest poignancy for those of us who need to frame our private fragile realities within the larger scheme of things. What has been taking me back to this song this evening is that “Tight Rope” was released back when the American public was bracing for all of the hell that would break loose two years later when a certain tricky guy was going to resign from an awfully big post. We were living our own individual lives on a tight rope. We also thought the American landscape was walking one of its own.

There was one more time when Leon would make a huge impression on me back in the day. This was in 1975 and the Will O’ The Wisp album was released. The single that he released from that album nailed me right between the eyes and knocked me completely out. “Lady Blue”. Oh my God! If there was ever a reason to enshrine this man into a balladry hall of fame, he got my vote in this song. He created perfection. Plus, that sax solo to go with his piano playing made for a mid-’70s production lesson of which I wish more had payed attention to upon looking back in hindsight. This was that period of time in the ’70s when production methods applied to records would tragically turn into much too dry results. Leon made the song sound like it sprung naturally from within a musical garden. As I was morphing from a child into my teenage years, the musical sounds within the song honestly planted a lot of Eros within me. It would play in my mind when I used to see beautiful women around me. And when I was alone and I was outside at night, it was one of those songs that had the ability to have you stop and look up into the night sky as it was playing in your head. It took you places.

As I am thinking of Leon Russell tonight, I am thinking of all of the musicians he came into contact with during the course of his life. I can’t think of anytime that I ever heard a bad thing come out of anybody’s mouth when it came to talking about him. There are a plethora of musicians still with us who are feeling a gaping hole in their hearts right now. They owe a great debt of gratitude for what he did for their records. Go ahead and look it all up. You can start from when he was a member of the famed Wrecking Crew and work your way out from there. He was one of the most valuable musicians that we have ever known. His loss is the loss of all of the musicians who ever toiled for that one perfect moment. That is to say, it is gigantic.

 

Talia’s Notes: In Fond Remembrance Of Billy Paul (Paul Williams)

Billy Paul RIPContrary to popular belief, it actually does get cold in California-especially the Bay Area. The nights were definitely chilly. I remember it so well. There was a period in December of 1972 when a new dimension was added into my 5th Grade mind while laying on the floor of my bedroom. My left ear was smashed up against the speakers of my little portable system I had while listening to the radio in the dark. December of 1972 was when “Me And Mrs. Jones” took off like a rocket and charted all the way to #1 in the United States. Not only was I getting to hear another then new to me Philadelphia International label artist and a stunning voice to go with it, but “Me And Mrs. Jones” was the song which made me begin to think about how the music was arranged. I took notice of how the bass was meeting up with the orchestra in ascension and then in descending patterns. I was also getting my first rudimentary thoughts about how orchestration was used to magnify emotional intensity within a song. I loved how the sax was used to emphasize the building intensity at points. What I didn’t know then was that this song was going to grow exponentially in meaning to me as time went on. And here in 2016, the song has taken on multi-dimensional meaning to me emotionally and in my own personal life to go with the musicality of it. I can’t even begin to tell you of how many married women I’ve had crushes on over the years. I can tell you that the song has helped me through having intense feelings for women who were not married too.

“Me And Mrs. Jones” proved to me, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and PIR were a force to be reckoned with. I was introduced to their music with “Back Stabbers” and “999 Arguments” from the O’ Jays. And then I saw another side of Gamble and Huff when “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” from Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes came out. All of these were released in ‘late ’72 before “Me And Mrs. Jones”. And when d.j.’s at KFRC and KLIV kept putting the names Gamble and Huff and Philadelphia International in the same sentence together, it was certified in stone that a new and very big new musical identity in Soul had been forged and was not going away. Billy Paul put the exclamation point on that.

Beyond that, Billy Paul’s vocals hit me like a ton of bricks. He seemed to be in complete command while conveying vocal power as well as laying back all at once in one song. As a kid, I knew what the song was about, but not in its full adult essence. It didn’t matter. Just his incredible way he was conveying the urgency and the depth of the need in this relationship, in turn, gave me added emotional depth just by listening to it. I latched onto this song on those cold December nights in the South Bay Area. I still have not let go on this rainy night in the Pacific Northwest after all of these years.

When the Grammy Awards were broadcast in 1973, Billy Paul sang it for an audience of millions. I watched it while being totally enraptured by his performance. On top of it, I thought he looked like the coolest guy on the planet that night. He came out in a suave green suit and matching hat and just killed it. For about 5 months after that broadcast, I wanted to be Billy Paul. I had been a fan of Soul Music for a good solid two years by then and my thinking was this was where it was at for the definition of cool. I found the picture I could put into my own personal dictionary. Years later, I was able to get a hold of the musical director for the Grammy Awards throughout the ’70s, Martin Pasetta, and I conveyed to him how envious I was of him to have been able to be a part of that specific moment while communicating with him almost 10 years ago. (A side note: I knew Martin as a child at the Grammar School I went to in Santa Clara. He was my Mom’s organist in the choir for the church I used to go to across the street from my school).

What made Billy Paul so unique was that he came from a Jazz background and applied what he learned in context of Soul Music. He even used to say that he preferred being referred to as a Jazz singer even though he was singing in context of the Soul genre. Being a Jazz singer is what gave him his unique stamp on the Soul scene of the time. He had a completely different range compared to other Soul guys. To this day, I’ll never understand why he never made it back to the Top 40 charts and the Bay Area AM stations I was listening to at the time. The follow-up single was “Am I Black Enough For You?” In scanning my memory, I can’t recall ever hearing it back then. Billy continued making great albums, but his singles career stopped cold in its tracks after the humongous success of “Me And Mrs. Jones”. At the time, there was still racial sensitivity going on among programmers even though Soul was selling big units. For some markets, “Am I Black Enough For You?” was considered too controversial and wasn’t played. The same could be said for “Me And Mrs. Jones”. I’m sure it wasn’t played in some Southern and Bible-Belt markets. It is one of the great tragedies in Soul Music history because Billy had a good solid two more years of putting out another possible smash before things would change once Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” would alter Soul afterwards in May of ’75.

The album, from which “Me And Mrs. Jones” came, 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul. is a stone-cold Soul classic. It should be in everyone’s music collection. There’s not a bad track on the entire album. All of the early albums of Billy Paul’s were classics and you would do well to search them out and get them. If you want to get the full scope of Billy’s Jazz background, you should get a copy of his first album. It came out in 1968 (and re-released in 1973) and is called Feelin’ Good At The Cadillac Club. You’ll be able to hear how he could push his voice. You’ll hear all of his vocal parameters on this album. Two years later, his great run of early ’70s Soul albums began. Ebony Woman came out in 1970. His fantastic precursor to 360 Degrees of Billy Paul came out in 1971 and is called Going East. It stands equally alongside 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul. 1972 was the year for 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul. And then in 1973, he came out with War Of The Gods.

What reveals themselves to the listener is that Billy Paul had a gift for picking out well-chosen covers and make them purely his own. This can especially be heard on Ebony Woman and on 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul. The best mastering for 360 Degrees Of can be found on the Sony/Legacy label Total Soul Classics series while all of the other aforementioned titles can be found on the U.K. BBR label. If Legacy was wise, they would start releasing the stuff BBR has put out and do it right. Obviously, he made more albums than the ones I’ve mentioned, but these were the ones which present to a listener the height of his powers.

It has been my dream for the past 10 years or so that the 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul album would come out as an SACD hybrid. It still hasn’t, but I suppose one could hope. I’ve always wanted to hear “Me And Mrs. Jones” in 5.1.

I wish I could have met Billy Paul (real name-Paul Williams). I really wanted to have a discussion with him about how the arrangement came together for “Me And Mrs. Jones” and how many times he took a stab at laying down his vocal track before he nailed the final take. I have read some vague statements from people over the years who claimed that he could be a little difficult to work with. If that’s true, then the fights had to have been worth it because he left a body of work that was also socially relevant. Throughout his albums, he dealt not only with relationships. He also dealt with social and spiritual issues. He was not a one-dimensional artist.

He should have gotten to be known for more than one song and one album. For all of my knowledge of Soul Music, I am terribly saddened that I never got to know and own the albums put out by the BBR label earlier. It wasn’t until only recently as each were reissued that I was able to discover just how complete an artist he was. It depresses me that his music and his catalog will likely never get another go-around. There is no magic wand which could help great numbers of people learn who this man was. He was a magnificent talent. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried upon reading the news that Billy Paul passed away after a bout with cancer this evening. He wasn’t young. I knew that this day was eventually going to come, but it hit me with great force anyway. God Bless Billy Paul. His was a great achievement.

–Steve Talia

Thoughts & Old Images Concerning Losing Signe Anderson & Paul Kantner from Steve Talia

Paul Kantner TaliaWhen you read some tributes to artists who have just passed, you will oftentimes see that the article might start off with some funny anecdote or even some mention of why someone was so musically important and it’s supposed to hit you with some kind of depth. Mine doesn’t start out that way, but it eventually gets to where I really want to take it.

This is so fuzzy that I can’t even recall the exact date. I’m guessing around 1984. I was going back and forth between taking classes at Lane Community College and the University of Oregon. At both places, I would take classes on Rock Music history. When I was taking one of the classes over at Lane, there was this guy who was younger than I was who was really bugging me about how he really wanted me to go see Jefferson Starship at The Hult Center For The Performing Arts here in Eugene. I really did not want to go, but the guy was just insistent as hell. So, I finally caved in and I went. Look man, I knew what was going to happen. What I never saw coming was the clarity of what I already knew in my mind as a certainty.

We both had great seats and I could see everybody nice and clearly. I witnessed a look in the eyes of both Paul Kantner and Grace Slick. They were looks that really made me sad because it made me hate the ’80s music scene all that much more. I saw Grace and Paul looking at each other and at various people in the audience and completely phoning it in while the audience was going nuts. They were completely mechanical that night and they had anger in their eyes that confirmed to me that they would much rather have been playing with the original Airplane rather than the Starship. It was obvious to me. I couldn’t believe people were missing it. After the show was over, the guy told me I was nuts for my observations. I felt bad for him, but my observations were validated later on when Grace eventually revealed that she was embarrassed by the stuff she did with them in the ’80s.

Ah yes! The Jefferson Airplane. If there was ever a band who personified the San Francisco Bay Area and the whole envelopment of everything which was the ’60s, it was them. The beautiful thing about them was that they had the front end of the psychedelic era from which to start showing themselves off. And when I speak of the front end, I am speaking about what many Bay Area natives refer to as the true Summer Of Love. It was the one in 1966. This was the unadvertised Summer Of Love. It was the time before the rough elements began to hem their way into the Bay Area. It was from that time that their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, sprung. Signe Anderson was a member of the band during this period. “It’s No Secret” was the hint of what was to come. It’s also an album which should be given more due, but it’s follow-up took off like a shot in such a bold way that it got left behind. And with Signe’s leaving the band behind after that first album, Grace Slick came along from The Great Society.

Though a person could make a case for a ton of great albums which came out from the ’66-’68 period from the San Francisco bands, I honestly think the greatest case could be made for Surrealistic Pillow as having been the album that launched it all. I am certain there are some out there who might feel that spiritual is a word which one would not associate with the word psychedelic or even the Psychedelic Era. It has to be said though. Surrealistic Pillow is spiritual. It lays before you the philosophy of an entire geographic area which spread throughout the entire world. You can hear it in “My Best Friend”, “Today” and “Coming Back To Me”. I hear these three songs in the fog there. I hear those songs in the spirits that hang around in San Francisco. You don’t have to always point the finger to “Somebody To Love”. It’s too obvious for a Bay Area person. It’s the contemplative material, man. At the end of the day, that was what everybody was getting to. Paul would eventually get more obvious about adding the Science Fiction elements into the Jefferson Airplane, but he was the guy who picked up philosophy from reading books and incorporating it into the music.

Signe AndersonPaul was a central part of all of this. Just like Jorma Kaukonen though, they both had experiences of being in the South Bay and took them up to San Francisco with them. They used to hang out in Santa Clara and San Jose before there ever was a Jefferson Airplane. I would bet that Paul knew every square inch of Old Town Santa Clara. And there’s something about having hung out in Santa Clara and San Jose and then going up to San Francisco and melding it all together. It made for a hell of a blend. You had the open let it all hang out part in San Francisco and then the private, staid South Bay people who were ready to hop into the fire feet-first. Those South Bay people led their parent’s lives during the day and then lived their open lives at night. I honestly believe both helped shape what became the uniqueness of what we would know as the counter-culture from 1966 through 1969.
By the time of the 1967 version of The Summer Of Love, the advertised one, the Airplane was expanding and beginning to reflect the harder edge coming into existence around them. It reached its height when they released Volunteers in 1969.

This is what I was thinking of when I was attending that Starship show back in the ’80s. I kept wishing that Paul and Grace could have had Jorma and Jack on that stage and that it wasn’t so slicked up. I wish it had been real, distorted and defiant.

I am so saddened by these two losses. They both happened on the same day. Signe and Paul are now a part of the spirits. They will now be a part of those voices I’ll hear whenever I am in San Francisco.

I knew that Signe was originally from up in Portland, Oregon and then she had worked her way down to San Francisco and became a brief part of a storied history of a storied band. It has only been a relatively short while that I knew of Paul’s having had Santa Clara and San Jose connections before he became a complete part of the San Francisco scene. I am so glad to have read that Paul never left San Francisco. I was privately shocked to have learned that Grace always preferred Los Angeles over San Francisco-even back during the ’60s. Paul walked among those spirits and went through the changes with them.

And if Paul could be a prickly interview subject, well, then I guess he had a few things to deal with. Don’t we all? A short while back, I was listening to a morning radio show on my local Eugene FM station that has been around since 1969 where one of the morning guys was talking about his bad experiences while attempting to interview Paul some years back. I don’t know if I would have fared any differently with him by just talking to him and not interviewing him at all. It’s just that I get uncomfortable when I listen to people talking about their bad experiences with musicians when they spend a good portion of putting out incorrect information on bands. This morning guy has a history of doing this. I’d have liked to have heard what the guy said when the news came around about Paul and Signe’s passing on and if I would have wanted to slam my car radio with my driving hand or not. I prefer giving Paul a pass because he gave us some great music. More importantly, he helped to spearhead people into viewing life through a new prism. I don’t recall that there was a rule that said an artist has to be without imperfection in order to make their mark. Besides, just remember something.

There is no such thing as so-called normality in the music business. There never was any back then nor will there ever be any in the future. I’m sure Paul saw plenty of it and that it influenced his world view over the years. Signe never needed a pass. From one article I read this evening concerning her passing, she held the band together when they were going through their original dysfunctional times together. For that, she was probably a private saint to them all. She walked away from it because she wanted to live a life more connected to a literal family-hers. History makes spirits out of all of us through different paths. Signe got out of the storm. Paul was right in the eye of it.

–Steve Talia

Talia’s Overflow Notes: California Country Heartbreaks: Thoughts On The Passing Of Glenn Frey

Glenn FreyWhen I first heard “Take It Easy” in the Summer of 1972, I had no idea that I was already having a line drawn for me which was tracing lineages of the Country-Rock movement before my very eyes. For myself, my first big connection to Rock and Country was through the “Chestnut Mare” single from The Byrds and Mike Nesmith’s “Joanne” (as well as the Magnetic South and Loose Salute albums of his) back in the Fall of 1970. The thing with me was that I would take years to learn that the lineage for that connection went back to Bob Dylan and then to The Byrds in the ’60s.

The amazing thing about California back then (after two years of being in Eugene, I moved back to the Bay Area in August of ’72) was that it became a more blatant combination of the leftovers of the ’60s and the then current time we were living in. The conservative and the liberal elements of both music and the combination of generational experiences were coming together in a unique blend. In other words, it was becoming a confused blur. My generation was developing a unique combination of all of our influences. From the time that first single of theirs came out in 1972 to the solid two year period where the entire Hotel California album dominated everybody’s lives from when it came out in late ’76 clear through most of 1978, Californians were Eagles fans whether they showed it or not. You didn’t even have to be from L.A. to be a bit possessive of them. The entire state eventually got really possessive of them. At the time that “Take It Easy” was released, you could not tell who were Eagles fans. They became more obvious as the decade wore on.

Yeah, there were the Country redneck guys who took them to heart because they decided they liked the Rock, but they didn’t like everything else that went with it. They always made me scratch my head because the Eagles were Rock and Roll and everything that went with it as far as stardom and culture went. But those guys always looked the other way when it came to realizing their own paradoxes. By the time the Joe Walsh Era of the band was already well underway in 1975, you could spot the guys with the cowboy hats who would tell you they loved the Eagles, but that they weren’t listening to Rock radio. Where I lived, most of those guys were listening to a station known as KFAT-FM in Gilroy, California and were taking Rock elements and forming what would be known in the early ’80s as Outlaw Country to go with the Country music they were already listening to and aligning it with their own brand of politics. In many cases, it was a scary combination-Rock, Country, conservative politics and a good share of heavy drinking and drugs to add spice to the proceedings.

It was the conception of what I would witness in the early ’80s everywhere-including Oregon. And then there were the guys like me who were combining everything they heard and formed it into a combination of everything imaginable. We were the music-heads. We were hippies. We were bohemians. We were artsy. We were politically liberal, but we grew up in generally conservative homes We were born in the ’60s and didn’t come of age until the ’70s. In that regard, we were lost in that we were stuck in between the ’60s and were pre-Punk at the same time. We were also not exclusive to any singular one of those descriptions of us I’ve just mentioned. We carried all of these elements around with us while a lot of people, knowingly or unknowingly, were beginning to take sides because of so much disillusionment which was permeating our lives back then. All of the music-heads just took what the Eagles were giving us as being something that was a long line of what became before us and was part of a great diversity we were lucky to have. The sad thing of it was that we all didn’t know that that very diversity was slipping out beneath us as radio began to undergo great changes by the time the decade ended. People began to choose sides-musical, personal & political because of the developing changes in radio and in our lives.

Unbeknownst to many, the Eagles became a dividing line for people as the decade wore on. And honestly, I consider it very lucky I got to live through the pre-Walsh Era if only because I remember the time period where people took the Eagles for what they were without their success being a signifier of some kind of political identity. I actually envy Glenn Frey in some regards. He didn’t have to see some of what was going on in the fan community. He likely became aware of it as time went on and the band’s staying power took hold. By the time Hotel California came out, I started seeing some of the division. There were the KFAT fan guys rejecting Hotel California but still listening to everything up to One Of These Nights. It was really strange. I kept up with the band clear through and including Hotel California and The Long Run and I just saw their music as their own evolution-no more, no less. Mind you, it was one hell of a great evolution. It had a pretty straight-forward trajectory which produced spectacular results.

Against all of this backdrop I’ve mentioned, I have to say that the Eagles really were a California band in my eyes. I viewed them through the unique California prism of having all of these elements colliding within myself and learning that I was going to have to examine each one of them for long periods of time in order to really figure out who I was. I can tell you that the songs where Glenn Frey had huge roles in them were ones that were major moments for me back in my California days. I do need to point out that the Don Henley-sung “Hotel California” would hold its greatest meaning to me for reasons which will be told in another column down the line. I can’t think of one of Frey’s that hit me bigger than “Tequila Sunrise”. I had all of those personal, musical and cultural elements slam into me when I used to be a hunter back then. I will still never forget this for as long as I live. It was the first time that it really started to hit me that I had to have the strength to reject some of the things that people were throwing on me occurred on a hunting trip down to an area down near King City which was in, I believe, Monterey County.

I got out of a small truck that a cousin of mine and my oldest brother were in as they started to get into a piece of property we were going to hunt in. It was1976 and yet the song from ’73 was going through my head. I had moment of clarity as the darkness was turning into the light of morning. I was watching the ground, in a very spooky way, light up in just the right way through trees. I could literally see a line from the sun forming on the ground and it was moving. “Tequila Sunrise” was playing in my head and I realized for a brief moment that perhaps I did not belong here out in nowhere and getting ready to do what I was going to do. It was the road to my realizing that I wasn’t a hunter and I had the music of the Eagles to thank for that. My own dividing line was beginning to develop. And I also used to really ruminate about the line where he sings about where “it’s a hollow feeling when it comes down to being friends/It never ends”. That line has grown on me over the years. With all of those girls, I never wanted to just be friends. Over time, the image of the sun that I saw creeping along on the ground became infused with the image of the adult sunrise of another hazy relationship and how so many people seem to think the ’70s was one long series of non-committal relationships for so many people.

When I think of “Lyin’ Eyes”, I heard a great song that introduced me to the women who were only out for financial security in a relationship. And damn! That song came to life before me as an adult decades later when I literally saw it happening to people around me. And when I used to listen to “New Kid In Town” either at home or on drives with my Dad to Santa Clara Broncos basketball games in ’77 and early ’78, I used to get reminded right there that Frey was harkening back to the earlier Eagles material from earlier in the decade. That song used to accompany me to the dances I used to go to in my first two years of High School when I was still in California. There’s a new kid in town? I felt like I was one when I was at those dances. Man! The competition was fierce. So Frey and Henley’s stuff was surrounding me through that whole time and the changes they brought. I hate like hell that the Eagles got caught in the middle of people creating divisions. Good music is good music. At least the music-heads got it right. We heard the liberal side line up with Country elements. And for the many heartbreaks we all went through, Glenn Frey gave us those small vignettes of hurt through some damned quality material. That’s where we all should have been paying more attention. Instead of those big issues dividing people, we should have been learning more about that girl in “Lyin” Eyes” so that we could have avoided her. That’s where people from all sides screwed up.

— Steve Talia

Talia’s Overflow Notes: Thoughts On The Passing Of Cynthia Robinson (Sly & The Family Stone)

RIP Cynthia RobinsonI never got to see Sly & The Family Stone perform as a live unit. I wish I did, but I was a victim of being born about 10 years too late (1961 to be precise) to have had the good fortune to have seen Sly & Co., in their prime back in 1968 and 1969. But I’ve been fortunate enough to see some footage here and there over the years. While the greatest focus of attention was always to be had with Sly himself, Cynthia Robinson always managed to get my eyes focused on her for spells.

In the many years that people have been spending looking back on their musical heroes great and small, what I always got from Cynthia was that she was an equal in an era where women had to fight hard to be seen as equals. The ’60s did not always present women as being seen as equals-even when they displayed extraordinary talent. I don’t know what it was specifically about Robinson, but I’ve come to believe that she managed to get herself into the position of being an equal because she was in a band with whom the marriage of Soul with what would become more familiarly known shortly thereafter as Funk forced an aggressive musical solidarity upon an audience. With that backdrop, as a horn player in a band as in your face as Sly’s, you were going to either lay back completely and not even bother to be there or you were going to be a part of that group solidarity by showing what made you, as an individual, worthy of making that whole group so much emboldened in the eyes and ears of an audience.

Cynthia Robinson made The Family Stone so much better because she had the musical goods with that trumpet of hers. But she had that something else. Whenever she stepped up to the mic during “Dance To The Music” and proudly put it out “All squares leave”, I saw a strong woman with inner strength. Maybe I’m seeing too much into things? It was so important back then for African-Americans to be heard. It was also important for women to be heard. It was even more important for an African-American woman to be heard because she had to deal with the double-whammy of having to take part in two different struggles at the same time. During those brief snippets on film where I could see her, all of this encapsulated itself within me over the years until it took for me to become an adult before I could define it to myself as to why she was making such a big impression upon me. The music certainly did a convincing job already. It laid down the foundation for greater awareness down the line for me. It wasn’t until the visual aspect came in that it all made sense to me.

As I was reading little press write-ups here and there as well as the online write-up from Rolling Stone Magazine and learning a few things about her, I began to have these little bits and pieces come popping back into my head that I had read and heard about from various sources over the years. I had heard vague references that she may, in fact, have done a big lion’s share of the job of having to help prop up Sly when he went into his very public burnout during the period of the band’s career which was the post-There’s A Riot Goin’ On period. Having learned this and then having it firmly confirmed in the Rolling Stone article, it told me something. Cynthia Robinson may have held more importance within Sly & The Family Stone than we are ever going to fully know. Tonight, I am celebrating what little I know and the impressions of her that I’ve carried around with me over the years, but I’m also saddened by the fact that it may well be possible that she should have been known as an even bigger figure had we known the fuller details of how important she was to Sly & The Family Stone. At least we got an impression though. That’s better than nothing.

And you know when I made mention of all of the great and small figures? I keep thinking that the giants will fall when the once small figures in music grow in stature as time passes on. Stand, Cynthia! You will be missed.

RIP C Robinson

RIP
Cynthia Robinson
1946-2015