Catching Hell, Grieving the Loss of Natalie Cole

natalie-cole-3

Joey, where are you going
Where will you sleep tonight
Will you be alright?

Some people can tell you exactly where they were when certain artist have died;  Lennon, Elvis, Tupac, Michael, Teena.

I will always remember that I was in a department store when I saw the Facebook post from my friend Jerome Noble that Natalie Cole died.  When I saw the post, I took it like I have taken many tragedies initially in my life; I went into a robotic mode mentally, and shut down mode internally as a coping mechanism. I pushed away that thought that such an important figure in my life was suddenly gone and went on about my day.  I understood that as time went on I would have to grapple with it.  This is a way of attempting to start the process of doing that.

My entire life story can be described with the music I have grown up with. There are certain artist that helped shape particular aspects of my way of looking at things.  Natalie Cole was pivotal in shaping my views and perspectives on love, communication, intimacy and vulnerability.  This was before I had a single girlfriend.  Her  words and expression were what I imagined love should be.  And thus what I wanted.  Her voice alone is right up there with Aretha’s.  But if I could compartmentalize, Aretha was like that chick you heard about.  She was/is a legend that everyone knows and yet you were lucky to see live if given the chance.  Aretha is a legend.  For me, Natalie Cole, no less legendary in stature was still that chick you knew from around the way.  She lived in my neighborhood.  My family went to her house for back yard cookouts.  Through her music I felt as if I knew her personally.  Even as a child her deep and thoughtful lyrics were totally relatable.  That is amazing to me when you consider that this is a woman who grew up in a home where on any given day Sinatra, Davis Jr. Ellington, Fitzgerald, and Basie would be just hanging out with her parents.

Getting to the music, I would be remiss to not mention the brains behind the lyrics and music that Natalie gave life to.  Chuck Jackson and (former husband) Marvin Yancy were a dynamic team that brought out Natalie’s own signature style. The game changers for me were two LPs released both released in 1977, “Unpredictable,” and “Thankful.”  I listened to the former time and time again via 8 Track living in South Bend, Indiana.  My mother played it every weekend when we were doing the detailed cleaning in the house.  While the radio played hits like, “I’ve Got Love On My Mind,” I was blessed to hear the rest of the songs like, “Still In Love,” featuring a soft melodic guitar not at all common in R&B music.  Then there was “Peaceful Living,” which compared the inner workings of a loving relationship to living in a land of paradise.  “Your Eyes,” is a beautiful compliment to a man who eyes she finds so captivating, not recognizing that the man was also blind.

And here we are in utopia where the sun never seems to go away
And the moon is our friend, hmm
Looking out on a starry night and the sky is like a slate for writing on
But you don’t need a pin, you don’t need a pin
Precious one, you’re a joy to me
And I know that there’s no place else I’d rather be
Peaceful living is here

The most impactful hit on, “Unpredictable,” was “I’m Catching Hell.”  This was an anthem in which the likes of Mary J. Blige would go on to follow in the footsteps in.  Here she opens with a monologue talking to women, encouraging them not to make mountains out of mole hills when it comes to small conflicts in their relationships.  The message is simply, “If you got a good man, you’d better keep him!”  She addresses the potential resistance to her message by acknowledging that she isn’t privy to each and every situation.  But if its not a deal breaker, stick to it.  From there she sings her ass off to her man acknowledging that devastating results of her rash emotionalism leading her to put a period where a comma should have been.

If I could replay, if I could replay ,that whole scene again, oh well
You know that I would never, never say it again, that our love, our love is at its end
And oh, you know that I would kind of ease on back, yes I would
And let confusion pass on by, I took a fools’way out, oh yeah
Without one good reason why

natalie

“Thankful,” was introduced to me in the outer suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA from my grandfather whom I visited most summers as a youth.  He had the cassette tape and played it when we rode in his 1978 creme colored fully loaded Lincoln Continental Town Car.   That car was an immaculate beast!  Whether it was around town or on road trips to Meridian, Mississippi where he was born, like “Unpredictable,” I listened intently and learned every word to every song.  “Thankful,” is nothing like “Unpredictable.”  To this day I am still amazed that she released two totally different iconic albums in one year.  Who ever does that?

You’re my morning star shining brightly beside me
And if we keep this love
We will last through all eternity

Again doing what normal R&B divas didn’t, she jazzed it up from the start with the up tempo swinging, “Lovers.”  Without pause she soon gives us a calypso ladened and poetic La Costa.  “Nothing Is Stronger Than Love,” is sang like a cross between a church service and the signature song in a Broadway play.  “Annie Mae,” is a powerful tribute to the young girls struggling with life on the streets.  Both of these albums played like an opera for me, each song a scene in the lives of my mother and other adults I looked up to; waiting to play my own part in my own life as an adult.

When I became an adult and no longer had access to my favorite Natalie Cole works, and with the release of CDs I looked for years with great displeasure learning that every piece of work she had up to that point were not released.  For some reason Capitol Records was holding out.  Eventually I found the single LaCosta on a Capitol compilation.  Then eventually I purchased both Thankful and Unpredictable three years apart from Japan.  (Thank you Ebay) Thankfully with the internet and some streaming services these songs are easily accessible.

natyancy

I find it ironic that I was recently watching an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy and noticed Natalie was playing a heart patient with little chance of living long into the future.  I am so disappointed that I never saw her perform live.

Natalie reinvented herself plenty of times.  From R&B to pop, then following in her father’s footsteps in recreating his works in Unforgettable.  Unforgettable is so amazing because she not only does the standards her father mastered, she managed to still make them totally her own.  She went on to do several classical jazz standards and her voice was always astute for the occasion.  I love those works, but it was those two 1977 releases that changed my life.  Listening to those jams last night my mood started to lighten a bit.  Instead of falling into despair, I will simply say, “Thank You for blessing me with your gifts, that voice, that heart.  You may be gone but your music will last forever in the playlist of my heart.  It would be selfish for me to ask you to stay forever.  You are allowed to take your rest for a job well done.”

When the snow falls on the Sahara, ‘And the sun freezes over,
When the Mojave red turns into blue.
When the music’s no longer playing and the faithless start praying,
I’ll stop loving you.

Your #1 Fan

 

unpredictThankful

 

 

And The Beat Goes On! cont.

It’s been a while but its that time again.  I’ve gotten some music over the last few months that I’d like to share a view on.  Without further adu: 

Let's Do It Again

We can start it off with Leela James, “Let’s Do It Again.”  This one is a Don Cornelius ‘stone cold’ thriller.  When you think of this CD, think of Seal’s, ‘Soul’ where he takes R&B classics and turns them into his own.  Leela not only puts her own signature on these hits, like Seal she has a band in the background that sounds as if they are playing in a smoke filled room big enough to fit 50 as opposed to a mere studio.  Its a jam session where she sings her heart out.  Right out the box she teams with legend Betty Wright on “Clean Up Woman.”  Then she dabbles with The Rolling Stones, “Miss You.”  One of my favorites is Womack & Womack’s, “Baby I’m Scared of You.” 

I enjoy listening to this album because it’s totally not safe.  Leela performs these songs from the heart and if you can feel it then feel it.  It has that feel of a live session and it’s full of energy and what seem to be ad libs.  This is real music and a decent musical tribute to some classical tunes rather than something packaged for quick consumption.  I’m all good with it.

Silky Soul Music: All-Star Tribute to Maze Featuri

Speaking of tributes, if you don’t have it already you got to pick up, “An All Star Tribute To MAZE featuring Frankie Beverly.”  This is one of my favorite CDs to thrown in on any occasion.  All star is indeed correct as you have the likes of Musiq Soulchild, Kem, Joe, Mary J Blige and Raheem Devaughn.

They hit many of the classic Maze cuts that only a dope can mess up.  Musiq performs Silky Soul, the tribute to Marvin Gaye.  In it he does what Musiq does, keeps it simple yet adds his distinct sound to it.   And while I’m generally not a big Mary J. Blige fan, her version of, “Before I Let Go,” is quite funky.  My favorites are Joe’s version of, “Can’t Get Over You,” which he sounds so smooth with it, it’s as if it could have been his own song, and Raheem Devaughn’s, “We Are One.”  Devaughn has so much talent and his voice is so silky suave.  He is really comfortable doing the song it compliments Frankie’s while again able to stand on it’s own.  In a happy twist on the last song of the CD, “I Wanna Thank You, is performed by J Moss, The Clark Sisters and Kiki Sheard.  They sort of church it up without making it churchee if you know what I mean.  I don’t think there is a group of sisters who have been able to harmonize quite as beautifully as the Clark Sisters.  “They seem to really enjoy doing this piece.  Anyone who loves good soul music and care for these artist will enjoy this piece of work.  If I was a disappointed with anything here it’s Mint Condition’s “Back In Stride.”  If they were on American Karaoke Idol I would say, “Perhaps you picked the wrong song.”  Compared to the other cuts, it’s just really ordinary.  By no means is this a deal breaker.  Pick up this CD.  It’s great!

Hot Buttered Jazz: Celebrating the Genius of Isaac Hayes

Smooth Jazz is BACK!  Back in the day when smooth jazz artist started doing cover tunes in jazz/instrumental format, you had some really good stuff out there.  So good that many hard core jazz artist got in on it too and started to do their own cover pieces.  Then it all went down as people put out stuff that seemed to have little effort thrown in it.  There was a smooth jazz tribute to this artist or that.  I would listen to them and want to puke.  It was as if cats just started putting together crap in their basement to try to make a buck.  This is not the case with, “Hot Buttered Jazz, Celebrating the Genius of Isaac Hayes.”

A fitting celebration it is as they not only hit on the theme for Shaft, but they hit cuts like, “Cafe’ Regio,” which just took me all the way back.  (Such a wonderful melody).  There are others too but I just have to hurry up and say that Phil Perry put his foot in, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix!”  I’m just sayin.  Pick this one up!

Star Power

Norman Connors, Star Power, is stocked full of other cover tunes.  And Connors brings a lot of energy, imagination and creativity to sign these hits.  The Sweetest Taboo, Rock With You, and Walk On By just to name a few makes for a CD you can ride to, chill to at work if you sit at a desk like me, or even clean the house with.  This CD is contains enjoyable pieces of music that people who enjoy rhythm and melodies will love.  Norman has a great ear for instruments and how to bring a fresh flavor with them.

Family Time

Want to hear a really cool and uplifting piece of music?  Pick up Ziggy Marley’s, “Family Time.”  This is a set of simple songs that just make you feel good.  Ziggy has a who’s who of musical legends sharing the mike with him on a few of these numbers.  Willie Nelson on “This Train,” Paul Simon on, “Walk Tall,” and even Jamie Lee Curtis help with a reading on, “My Helping Hands.”  Also along for the ride are Marley family members who participate on songs, “Family Time,” and my favorite, “I Love You Too.”  What you will get here is a series of songs that put gives one the simplest forms of music in a way that always manages to get through to the musical soul.  None of the pieces are complicated but the simplicity is overwhelmingly satisfying.  I love it!  Ziggie rocks!

Thriller! Celebrating the Life of An Icon

It didn’t take me long to figure out which of the many lasting memories that I wanted to share upon hearing of the death of Michael Jackson.  I could have gone with the time the Jackson 5 had four consecutive number 1 hits of “ABC,” “The Love You Save”“I Want You Back” , and “I’ll Be There” in the early 70’s.  Or the way I tried to do “The Robot” like he did in the middle of “Dancing Machine.”  Those were great. 

But one of my favorites was the time The Jackson’s (the older version of the Jackson 5) were on American Bandstand one Saturday morning.  The year was 1978 and I had gotten their latest LP “Destiny” for my 11th birthday. I was familiar with all of the songs and new them by heart.

Normally, when Bandstand came on, I would peep the opening to see if the musical guest would be worth my time.  There would be two bands or groups on any given show.  You may get the Bay City Rollers for instance with KC & The Sunshine Band.  But this time The Jackson’s were on.  The guest list included…..

wait for it…..

The Jacksons.  That was it.  There were no additional guest or second act.

As Dick Clark tried to open the show with his usual monologue, the crowd was screaming so loudly that you could hardly hear him.  You knew it was going to be a wrap. 

The first part of the show was the usual dancing and stuff.  We all waited for the brothers to appear.  It was mundane at best.  “Let’s get on with it, ” I thought to myself.”  Even the dancers looked impatient.  Finally, after the first two numbers and the first customary commercial break, it was that time. 

As Dick sat in his usual place with fans behind him waiting to witness the show.  He once again tried to introduce The Jackson’s to the TV audience.  The crowd wouldn’t let him as they screamed and screamed continuously.  There was no curtain on AB so the group was obviously already visible to the live audience on the set.  Clark just gave up and hurriedly exclaimed, “Ladies and Gentleman, The Jacksons!”

Now at the time the hit that radio stations were playing was “Blame It On The Boogie.”  If you had the album you knew “Shake Your Body Down (To The Ground)” would be a mega hit to come.  But do they jam either of these as an opening?  NOPE!  These cats come out with “The Things I Do For You.” 

After that signature intro – Michael goes off!

People all over the world are the same everywhere I go
I give in to this, I give in to that
Every day it bothers me so

Am I in a bad situation
People taking me to the extreme
Am I being used
I just need a clue
I don’t know which way to go

So I took my problems to a doctor
So he could check it out, he don’t know
Took it to a palm reader so she could
Read my hand, she don’t know
Five minutes later I started to understand
I started screaming, shouting, acting mad
No one could help me but myself
But I gave everything I had

Chorus:
It’s things I do for you
In return do the same for me
It’s things I do for you
In return do the same for me

Destiny

Right off the top it was a show stopper!  The song, (arguably the best on a GREAT album) was not even released as a single.  Talk about confidence!  They killed it!  I sat in front of my 13 inch black and white television with my mouth agape.  Michael sang his ass off and moved like the wind.  It was surreal the way they opened the set.  The energy, the positive vibes.  I mean you couldn’t just sit in front of the television and merely observe.  You couldn’t listen without moving.  Ha!  Man I was like, “Damn!”

You got to understand that at that time, there was no Prince to compare Michael to as it were in the 80’s.  In terms of groups and musical icons it was Michael with the Jacksons and everybody else.  Nothing else was even close.   Michael had the best voice, the best and most innovative moves, he was a pin up star and teen idol.  He had the entire package even then.  This was before “Off The Wall” let alone “Thriller.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  Michael had his own style for sure.  But all great artist take from the foundations laid before them.  Some merely copy styles, but the great ones can take what you did and put their own brand to it and make it their own.  Michael was a great student.  As a friend of mine who saw the Jackson 5 perform in Gary Indiana, told me today, “We grew up on James Brown, but we grew up with Michael Jackson.”  James Brown and Little Richard laid the foundations for Jackson.  Mike just took it to a new level.

He also borrowed from former Shalamar member Jeffery Daniel who did a dance called “The backslide,” which Michael turned into The Moonwalk.  It was no shame to it.  Mike was secure with himself in terms of performing and loved to watch others, and learn. 

It was common knowledge back in the day that Michael Jackson and Prince used to sneak in and view each others concerts during the 80s.  Though their music was totally different, they were the heartbeat of the 80s.  When Thriller and Prince’s 1999 were out at the same time, the music on both albums dominated the radio and party scenes.

I will most definitely mourn Michael.  I am not ashamed to say that.  He is the greatest entertainer ever… period.  He’s the original MJ.   Elvis made the ladies cry.  But Michael is the only dude I’ve ever seen who made other dudes cry.  I am glad to have lived during the early and glory years. 

I’ve got more to say about MJ.  I just have to get it off my chest.  It’s a cleansing for me. 

But for now I will just say to Michael, “Rest in peace dear brother.  You gave a lot musically, gifts from your soul for a lifetime.  We around the world received those gifts.  And we will be forever grateful.” 

Michael Jackson

Fleetwood Mac, Maze, Old Bands & The Economy

I was driving to work and noticed the sign on bus station poster – Fleetwood Mac coming to town.  Fleetwood is one of my favorite bands from back in the day and Stevie Nicks has one of the most beautiful and haunting voices I’ve ever heard.  I listen to them often and seeing that sign brought to my attention once again how many of the old school bands are still out here touring.  

In the last couple years we’ve had The Police, The Eagles, and The Stones.  None of these cats have any new hits.  They just tour doing the old ones.  That to me is not a bad thing.  It says more about the quality of music of the day. 

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly will be in The Lou this Friday with Teena Marie and Keith Sweat as a matter of fact.  I wanted to go to see Lady-T but I got some other priorities right now and that prevents me from upping the $65 for a ducket. 

Speaking of Sweat, how in the hell is Sweat still touring?  Is that a women over the age of 35 thing?  I mean, “Make It Last Forever”was a great album… but that was his first well over 20 years ago.  He’s produced some good stuff too but do people really want to see this dude croon?  He’s still Steve Arrington just like Aaron Hall was Charlie Wilson.  He was just a more successful at a solo career being Steve Arrington than Steve Arrington was in his solo career.   (Just a touch of love… a little bit)  I’m just saying.

I have seen Frankie though I think like 4 times in my life.  You can never see them too much cause the music is so good and the band is so tight.  They don’t cheat you as they play EVERY song with none of that medley BS to get by.  Oh no, when you see Frankie you don’t go to a concert, you have a party and come out of it feeling GREAT!  Only cool ass audiences go to Frankie concerts too.  Old dudes in brims and velvet suit jackets and stuff.  But unlike other St. Louis audiences, (stuck up acting like they are too good to get down) Frankie/Maze followers know whats up and they come to reminisce and rock the house.

Back to the old bands:  It shows too that us old heads are hungry for some of the nostalgia of the music we used to sing and dance to back in the day.  Have you seen the prices of these shows.  The Stones were starting at $250 a pop.  The Police were like $160.  The Eagles were $175.  I mean DAMN!  I just can’t get down like that.  I read that the Police set was tight though… and they did the hits. 

 

The best days for me was when I worked at the old Keil Auditorium and had access to many bands and singers.  I saw Salt and Pepa before anyone knew who the heck they were.  I thought it was a duo guy group till they came out on stage.  They were just that new.  I mean look, they came with Heavy D and the Too Live Crew if that tells ya anything. 

Has Earth Wind and Fire ever stopped touring?

Free concerts rock!  And the ones I will remember most are Kiss, Hank Williams Jr. (truly a country ass pimp) REO Speedwagon, Poison, and Al Green passing out those roses. 

No concert blew my socks off though the way Bon Jovi did when they came for the “Slippery When Wet”tour.  I mean look – first off I didn’t know who those guys even were.  But there was a buzz all around the city.  So I’m thinking, “Who is Bon Jovi and why did they sell out in 45 minutes?”  Before the show all of these young scantly clad girls – yes I said girls and women were dressed in lace and pajamas.  I was like, “What the hell?”

But yo!  No joke when them dudes hit the stage it was ON!  John was riding on this tightrope 100 feet above the stage playing his guitar, and they rocked the MF house.  I have never, and I mean EVER seen a band play and rock that hard for an entire 2 1/2 hour show.  Prince will do it, but I’m talking about the whole band!  They played like their lives depended on it.  “Dead or Alive, Livin On A Prayer, they hit them all.  The encore… “Runaway!”  That’s when I was like, “Oh that’s them? ” Cause I already knew that song before, just hadn’t heard of Bon Jovi.  I ain’t forgot since.

Sade… great artist – tight band with the same core dudes she’s always had.  It shows too.

Oh I got to share one of the most disappointing concerts I’ve ever been too as well.  The Isley Brothers!  Now look, just for the sake of hits no one does it better!  4 plus decades of stone cold jams.  Will always be one of my favorite groups!  But I got them late in the game and they came out and started out with a few hits… You know they did “Voyage To Atlantis,”and Ernie was all over it.  They did old school and took us back for about 30 min… a bunch of medleys though.  Then Ron went and changed clothes, got into his Mr. Biggs thing with the cane and the girls dancing around him like he was Max Julien from The Mack.  Then they did Contagious and all of that R. Kelly in the closet bull crap!  It was sooooooooo tired!  Finished up with a couple other old school hits and something from the then new album and walked off the stage.  I was PISSED!  I mean it was a ‘C’ at best.  Ernie was great, Ron took our money with a ski mask.   I said to myself, “Never again!”  If we were in Los Angeles or New York this never would have happened.  They figured, “St. Louis, what the hell just do whatever and get the doe.”  He should have paid them taxes with that money.  But that’s another story.

 What are some of your favorite, more memorable or fogettable concerts, artist or bands?