Black History Month: “The Deuce” Oscar Hammerstein II

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Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerst...

Oscar Hammerstein II ( Wikipedia)

(July 12, 1895 – August 23, 1960)

Believe it or not today’s article is about a non-black man.  A man that I sincerely believe understood the mindset and the tragic conditions of black men and women in the past and the current times until his death in 1960. It wasn’t until a recent show about his life on PBS that led me to this conclusion.  In a minute, I will tell you why I came to this belief, but before I go any further, I should tell you the name of whom I am talking about…Oscar Hammerstein II.

Oscar Hammerstein II was the product of the entertainment industry.  His grandfather, who he was named after, was a respected vaudevillian that owned the Village Theatre in New York City.  His father managed the theatre and according to sources, was opposed to his son’s desire to participate in the arts.  It was not until he died that young Oscar participated in his first play, a college variety show called On Your Way.  Ultimately, Oscar had a very celebrated career, winning awards eight Tony Awards and two Academy Awards for Best Original Song.  Many of his songs have become standard repertoire for singers and jazz musicians through the years.  He co-wrote 850 songs.  Hammerstein was the lyricist and playwright in his musical partnerships; his collaborators wrote the music.  He collaborated with composers Jerome Kern, Vincent Youmans, Rudolf Frinl, Richard A. Whiting and Sigmund Romberg; but his most famous collaboration by far, was with Richard Rodgers(A list of some of his most noteworthy work/songs can be found below.)

So what did he do that makes him worthy of my modest black history acknowledgement? Two of his works, to me, strengthen my position.  The first is Showboat, a musical that I initially saw as a film, first in black and white that featured the great Paul Robeson as “Joe” and a second time a 1951 production that was filmed in color and in “Cinemascope” that featured William Warfield also as “Joe”.   The casting of Ava Gardner in the latter film was really an insult, I’ve never had much respect for her as an actor and in this case, she was definitely miscast.  The second work that I think makes him a noteworthy individual was his production of “Carmen Jones”, an adaptation of Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen, that had an all-black cast that initially was a Broadway musical in 1943 and a film in 1954.  The film starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry BelafonteOtto Preminger, whom Dandridge had an affair with for nearly 4 years, also directed it.  A third musical, South Pacific also dealt with racial issues.

Hammerstein was one of the more tough-minded and socially conscious American musical theater artists and it definitely shows as he delved deeply into the black culture in these two pieces of work.  He did not run from the racial prejudices of his time.  Showboat’s bold underlying plot was about miscegenation…interracial relationships and marriages. At the time, many states, if not most in the U.S., had laws preventing it.  He didn’t mince words either…his plays, especially this one, used the words of the day.  Negroes were “Nigga’s” and “boys” and “mammies”.  In today’s politically correct times, the use of those words, even in the context of the times, are intolerable to some.

True story:  I saw the revival production of Showboat twice, the first time in Toronto (more about that experience will come later) and the second time at the Masonic Temple in Detroit.  For the Detroit performance, I took a black friend who was so incensed and offended by the words and terms that were used in the play, we had to leave and we were only 20 minutes into the performance.  Every time a white performer used the “N-word” she winced.  She ultimately chastised me for bringing her to the performance, dinner was cancelled and any romantic notion that I might have had as far as she was concerned was over…stick a fork in…it was done (forevvvvver)!  She couldn’t understand why I wasn’t offended too.  At $100 per ticket it would have taken a lot to have offended me and anyway I wasn’t responsible for the words, it wasn’t like I could change them.  To be truthful, why would I?  The play was a story about the south in the 1800’s, the time of showboats, and racial epithets were used all of the time.  If it happened in “polite” society, would you…could you expect it to be any different on the docks.  It represented the reality of those times, not that you had to like it…and I tend to think that he wanted you to hate it, because he didn’t like it either.  Some say that when you look at the overall body of his work, Oscar was a softy, a sentimentalist.  I move that he had to be that to grace his characters with the dignity and genuine humility that they portrayed.  I can guarantee that the actors that performed his words…sang/spoke the lines he wrote, were just as proud to be his vessels, as the, many of us were that heard them.

Another true story…January 1994, I went to Toronto, with a very special lady I was seeing at the time, to see the first run of Showboat at The North York Performing Arts Centre.  This was the first time I saw it.  The second time was the ill-fated occasion at the Masonic Temple.  With regards to the performance, the setting…the staging was far better than what I subsequently saw back home in Detroit, plus it had our hometown star, Lonette McKee.  The stage was HUGE! It made good use of the technology of the times…lighting, set design, for a while it was the best set I had ever seen (I loved Les Mis too) and the most dynamic.  Anyway, my girlfriend and I had great seats.  We were first row, just slightly off center…it was such an unexpected surprise that we sat so close.  When I got home I sent a card to thank my travel agent.

So, anyway, the lights go down and the show begins with a couple of songs.  Finally, they get to Old Man River.  The character “Joe”, played marvelously by Michel Bell, comes on stage looking right at me, smiles, and goes into the song.  It was fabulous!!!  The next song was Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, a group performance that included Joe, Lonette MeKee’s character “Julie” and Joe’s wife “Queenie”, who was played by Gretha Boston.  One by one whenever a black performer came on stage they looked at me, smiled and sung each song as if they were performing for me.  I got chills from Gretha’s “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun”.  It wasn’t my birthday and I must admit that I felt a little self-conscious.  I wondered if anybody else had noticed or was I just dreaming.  At the end of the show, m’lady asked how did it feel to have a private performance of the musical.  I confessed that I loved it immensely, surprised that she noticed it too, and was very happy that I hadn’t imagined it all.  When we stood to leave we turned to see that I was the only black person in the audience.  They were performing for me (and of course, my girl as she was sitting next to me)!  How COOL was that?

The revival of Hammerstein and Kern’s adaptation of the Edna Farber book was a tremendous success.  Like Mark Twain’s work I hope that his or Ms. Farber’s efforts survive the politically correct censors that walk the streets today.  PC cannot or should not be retrofitted on classic works…of literature, art or performance.  Oscar Hammerstein was not just one of a kind.  There are many like him…that have a sensibility about the characters and situations that they write about. He reminds me of Mark Twain, another fantastic storyteller.  I hope there will be no attempt to “sanitize” his words, as they were trying at one time to Twain’s work.

Oscar Hammerstein II was and remains a transformative figure in the history of Broadway and musical history.  His honest use of dialect and language makes for some “powerful” playmaking and his legacy shall live on forever!

Play List

Showboat

  • Ol’ Man River
  • Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man
  • Make Believe
  • Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’

Oklahoma

  • Oklahoma
  • People Will Say We’re Falling In Love
  • Oh, What A Beautiful Morning
  • The Surrey With The Fringe On Top

Carousel

  • You’ll Never Walk Alone
  • If I Loved You
  • June Is Bustin’ Out All Over

South Pacific

  • Some Enchanted Evening
  • Bali Hai
  • You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught
  • I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair

King & I

  • Getting To Know You
  • Shall We Dance
  • Something Wonderful!
  • Whistle A Happy Tune

Sound of Music

  • Sound of Music
  • Climb Every Mountain
  • Do-Re-Mi
  • Edelweiss

Lady In Red

  • The Last Time I Saw Paris

State Fair

  • It Might As Well Be Spring

Source: Wikipedia

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The Detroit Social Club Invitation

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Jazz Cafe

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The Detroit Music Hall

350 Madison St. (313) 887-8501

www.jazzcafedetroit.com

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Ron Jackson Birthday Cabaret

The Soundtrack of My Life – The 60’s

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English: The disc for the first The Shirelles ...

English: The disc for the first The Shirelles song to top the Hot 100, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of weeks ago I asked my brother Isaac Littsey, a talented and very knowledgeable person on music, to write a little something about Black Music Month.  In his own words…

June is “Black Music Month,” so when my brother, Arthur, asked me to write a few words about its significance I struggled a bit.  Black music is so far reaching and broad that to try to reduce it to a few simple paragraphs would, in my opinion, not do it justice.  At least not the justice it deserves.  So what I’m going to try and do is give you a look at Black Music as the soundtrack of my life.  Now I’m sure each of us has a “soundtrack” or at the least, we have music that when we hear a particular song, we remember either where we were or what we were doing, when the song was popular.  There were so many songs that were part of my soundtrack that what I’ve done was, go on my computer, put on my list of “soul classics,” and as they played, just sit back and reminisce.

WOW, the very first song that played was “Soldier Boy,” by the Shirelles.  The year was 1962.  I was starting my junior year in high school (Pershing High School/Detroit for all of my alumni friends).  This was before Motown became a significant musical entity and there was not a lot of “black music” being played on the radio.  American Bandstand was still in its adolescence and to hear the Shirelles sing that song on the radio was a real awakening.  You’ve got to remember that the Vietnam War was going on at the time.  I was in the R.O.T.C. and catching a lot of flak about my uniform and that song became some sort of validation for my cohorts and me.  The teasing stopped as soon as the refrain “Soldier boy, oh my little soldier boy, I’ll be true to you” began.  With that song and others like “This is Dedicated to the One I Love”, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?and “I Met Him on a Sunday” (remember “da doo ron ron ron da doo ron ron) the soundtrack began.

There were others then and later like the Chantels, the Jaynets (remember “Sally Goes Round The Roses?”), the Crystals (Uptown, He’s a Rebel) who along with performers like Nat King Cole, Jackie Wilson, Clyde McPhatter, Ray Charles, Brook Benton, all of whom gave “pop music” some “soul” and helped elevate soul music performances to prominence.

This was also the time of talent shows and “street corner symphonies.”  I was fortunate to go to school with some of the best of the local talents, like the fellows who would become The Dramatics.  Here’s a shout out for Elbert Watkins, my friend, who passed in 1992 (Ron Banks, “Wee Gee” Howard, Johnny Mack Brown, Lenny Mayes, and Tony Hester who, also, are no longer with us).  Gino Washington (“Gino Is a Coward”) and Demetrius Cates of the Fabulous Counts were schoolmates, as well.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two people who played a significant part in my soundtrack.  Grady Pounds, perhaps the finest pure singer I’ve known (his renditions of “So Much in Love,” by the Tymes and “Farewell My Love” by the “Temptin” Temptations are two of my all time favorites) and Carl Holloway, definitely the finest drummer I’ve known.  None of those elaborate drum sets for Carl.  He could do it all with a snare, a tom, a bass drum, a cymbal and a high-hat.  Hey, if you read this fellas, “holla back.”

It was around this time when I started connecting music to my personal experiences.  Little Anthony and the Imperials“Going Out of My Head” just started playing.  Music had just added a voice and words to my developing interest in love and falling in love.  When I was walking around totally confused about what was happening to me, the words of the music became my screenplay.  The words to the soundtrack of my life.

There were the Ronettes (“Do I Love You, Be My Baby, Walkin’ in the Rain”), there was Gene “Duke of Earl” Chandler asking, “What Now?” and wanting us to “Just Be True,” there were the Impressions (“Little Young Lover, Gypsy Woman, Minstrel and Queen, I’m the One Who Loves You”).  In fact, it was with the Impressions that I first heard Jerry “the Ice Man” ButlerJerry Butler’s “Need to Belong, Make It Easy On Yourself” and “He Will Break Your Heart,” were stand-ins for all the words I thought at the time, but hadn’t the nerve to say.

Confused at the time about my relationship with “love”, I was encouraged by knowing that I could be both Mary Well’s “Two Lovers.”  When Mary sang “My Guy,” “The One Who Really Loves You,” when she reminded me “What’s Easy for Two, Is Hard for One” (“Let’s get together and go for a walk in the park”), my oh my!  Ooh, “You Beat Me to the Punch” just played from my song list!  What I loved about Mary was that, through the daze and the haze, she would always be “Your (my) Old Stand By.”

As nervous a time as it was, though, there was The Intruders to help me transition from “Cowboy to Girls,” and Archie Bell and the Drells to show me how to “Tighten Up.”

During the summer “Heatwave” we were “Dancin’ in the Streets” to Martha and the Vandellas.  My favorite songs by then were “Come and Get These Memories” and “Jimmy Mack.”  And I remember skating to “My Baby Loves Me.”

There was Justine “Baby” Washington’s “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face” and “That’s How Heartaches Are Made.”  Maxine Brown’s “Oh No, Not My Baby” and Jimmy Ruffin’s, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?”  Oh yeah, I can’t leave out Ms. Jackie Ross.  The refrain of those French horns on “Selfish One” was a clarion call to the dance floor.

Before there was the Jackson 5, we had the Jackson 2.  I’m talking about Chuck and Walter Jackson (related only by their talent).  Chuck Jackson with “Any Day Now,” “Tell Him I’m Not Home,” and my favorite “I’m Your Man.”  Walter Jackson with “It’s All Over” and “It’s an Uphill Climb from the Bottom.”  This was music that not only set the scene, it told the story.

And then there were the Dells.  Yes, the Dells.  The soulful harmonies, the tight interaction of melodies and backgrounds, made slow dancing one of the most pleasurable actions on the dance floor.  I’m still amazed at how long Marvin Junior held that note in the song, “Stay in My Corner.”

And speaking of the dance floor, how about the time when “The Godfather of Soul” James Brown recorded “Live at the Apollo” with the long version of “There Was a Time” (Hey hey, I feel alright…One time, uh!).

The Friends of Distinction helped me with “Going in Circles,” and along about that time the Originals with “Baby, I’m For Real” helped me to explain what I didn’t have the words to say.

Other songs that might not be as well known, from that time were Jimmy Williams’ “The Half Man,” Tony Clark’s “The Entertainer,” Ruby and the Romantics “Hypnotized,” The Radients “It Ain’t No Big Thing,” and how about Sammy Turner’s “Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly),” or “Elephant Walk” by Donald Jenkins.  I know I am leaving some really important tunes out, my soundtrack and possibly yours as well, but maybe you’ll include them in your soundtrack and let me know about them.

With the emergence of black radio, we were blessed with great deejays…the people who became conductors and arrangers of my soundtrack.  People like Ernie Durham, Butterball the Jr., Leon Isaacs (out of Chicago but airing on WJLB weeknights at 9:00 or 9:30, somebody help me out here?) and a young Donnie Simpson, whose family lived just down the street from me.

There were so many others.  The rest of the Motown groups (the aforementioned Temptations, the Supremes, the Four Tops…), the Atlantic groups and singers (Aretha Franklin, the Spinners, Ben E. King, the Drifters…).  There was Stax-Watts with Isaac Hayes, the Bar-Keys, Rufus and Carla Thomas (father and daughter), Booker T & the MG’s.  So many artists, so much music…I would need more space to mention them all.

I’ve really enjoyed this trip back in time and I hope your musical experience matches or exceeds mine.  One thing though, it seems we are going to need more than one “Black Music Month” a year to cover them all.

I am looking forward to knowing, with your comments, about the soundtrack of your life.

Isaac Littsey, Jr. 

 

Isaac also has a blog of his own and you can read his comments at www.declarativeusa.com

Also read “Black History Month: The Work of Wendy Woods Jackson”

The Magic That Is Music!

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Every once in awhile someone may send you something that hits you the right way and you are so touched by it that you have an overwhelmingly, compelling desire to share it with everyone you know.  Such is the link I received from my friend Jan Sansom.  The video you are about to watch is one of those things that has undoubtedly gone viral and for good reason.  I think we all know somebody, sick or dealing with a chronic condition, that has experienced the healing magic of music.  It has been documented over and over at the professional level as well as on a personal level.  Many hospitals and rehabilitation systems have recreational therapy programs that include music.  I know on a personal level, when my mother was in the hospital a few years ago and her outcome was questionable; we used recorded music and “live in her hospital room” performances, to help her recuperate. 

Scientifically, there are probably a lot of reasons for the way music affects the body and the mind.  How it stimulates the mind and  I’m guessing when I say the nervous system, has more answers than it does questions…um, I think I mean more questions than answers.  Either way, there is still a lot to know about and how to properly use music to promote health and healing.  But at the end the day, like this video will show you, it isn’t hard to understand the smile on the patient’s face…the sparkle in their eyes and the joy that is in their heart!

click here: Old Man in a Nursing Home Reacts to Hearing Music From His Era     The Miracle of Music!!! 

Do you have a music healing story or another unique healing experience?  I would like to hear about it.  Send me a note and we will share your story here on this website.

 

Thanks Jan!

The Devil and Rock & Roll Parts 1 – 4

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The Baphomet, adopted symbol of some Left-Hand...

The Baphomet, adopted symbol of some Left-Hand Path systems, including Theistic Satanism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The date was Sunday, October 24, 1976.  The place was the Historic Redford Theatre.  The curtain was about to rise for the first headline concert by the rock and roll band “Merlin”.  The audience out front was noisy and expectant.  The band, Arthur Littsey, Marcus Dawson, Jim Lifton and Richard “Oval” Wood, was nervous but ready to go.  In a matter of minutes, the audience started clapping for the show to start.  The air was electric.  But wait one dog-gone minute!  The story doesn’t start here…it ends here!

This story actually begins in the summer of 1976 and if I recall correctly it was probably late July or early August.  Like most bands we advertised in the entertainment circulars and we got a call from a guy who said that he had seen our logo, which was the “Goat of Mendes”, and because he believed it was a sign (from who or where we didn’t know) he felt or hoped that we were the perfect band to work on the project he was developing.

For those of you that don’t know, the “Goat of Mendes”, according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, is a pagan deity revived in the 19th century as a figure of occultism and Satanism.  It appeared as a term for a pagan idol in trial transcripts of the Inquisition of the Knights Templar in the 14th century.  The name first came into popular English-speaking consciousness in the 19th century, with debate and speculation on the reasons for the suppression of the Templars.  Since 1855, the name Baphomet has been associated with a “Sabbatic Goat” image drawn by Eliphas Levi.  When we came up with the name for the band, we were looking for something that symbolized magic and when I came upon the “goat” it was a slam-dunk decision.  You have to remember how popular Satanism was at the time (Rolling Stones “Her Majesties Satanic Requests/Symphony for the Devil” and everything Led Zeppelin) and though a lot of bands were not into the occult and the devil, to be associated with it was pretty cool.  In fact, there was another band that tried to use just the head of the “goat” as their logo, but since we were firmly identified with it, we were able to get them to stop using it.

So this guy that was drawn to our logo asked to meet with us to discuss a project of the utmost importance.  Like most of our adventures of the time, we didn’t have a clue as for what we were letting ourselves in for.  On a dark, hot and rainy Friday night, our mystery unfolded with a meeting with a guy who led a group called “666”.  He and several of his aides or “followers” drove up in a black Cadillac hearse with skulls over the headlights and taillights.  He walked in wearing a cape, looking like he had escaped from the mind of Sir Graves Ghastly, dressed in black of course, skull tips on his boots, skull rings and lots of chains and crosses around his neck and chest.  We were very amused.  After all the movie “The Omen” had just been released and though we had probably seen it several times ourselves, it was still kind of funny that somebody was taking it to the extremes that this guy was.  It was a very hot time of the year and our guest and his associates must have bathed, in the popular fragrance at the time, “Musk Oil” cologne to hide their funky body odor or to chase mosquitoes or to do both.

He said his name was “Chris” and he began with a discussion on how symbolic it was that he came across our logo and how it must have been an act of the devil that he was so fortunate to have seen it and therefore found us.  He went on a bit about the power of the sign and how much good fortune we surely must be having as a result of our using it to represent the band.  Fortunate?  HA!  The type of luck that logo brought us was…

  • The fire and demise of the People’s Ballroom (Ann Arbor)
  • The kitchen fire in our home (South Lyon)
  • Held hostage in Roscommon at a biker party
  • The fire and destruction of our home in West Bloomfield
  • The upcoming furnace explosion and subsequent fire in Wixom.

Plus there was the time we were set to play a dance at St. Bartholomew on “Good Friday” and when the priest saw our banner with the logo, we were fired on the spot or the time we were setting up to play for the prom at “Immaculate Conception” in Hamtramck and when the nuns saw it they gasped, crossed themselves several times and insisted we take it down or we could not play.  Yeah, it was lucky all right.  NOT!

But, for some reason we hung on to it and continued to use it.  We weren’t superstitious…we didn’t practice witchcraft or worship the devil, so we didn’t feel it was necessary to make a change, everybody liked it and we did too!  So as our guest went on and on about the powers we could wield if we did believe, we managed to keep the smirks off of our faces and sat there, waiting patiently for the real reason for this get-together to be addressed.

As it turned out, “Chris” was looking for a band to write the music score for a play that he had written.  His story was to be based on the parts of the bible where the devil is expelled from heaven and when the fight over the souls began.  Right then is where our problems began, for it was right then and there he had us.  A music score?  A rock opera?  Raise your hands and shout…Hallelujah!  We were jumping up and slapping hands like we were at a church revival!  Why hadn’t he gotten to the point sooner!  And just like the beginning of the Kentucky Derby and the announcer, at the sound of the bell, says…“and their off”, we were off to the races.  We were in the same league as “Wagner”…“Handel”…“Gluck”…“Mozart”… “Lennon & McCartney/The Beatles”…“Townsend/The Who”… and “Anderson/Jethro Tull”!  Finally, somebody had come along and had recognized our genius…our skill…our aplomb!  A rock opera…yessireebob!  We could do that!!!  Did we care it was about the battle between good and evil?  No!  Did we care it was about the Satan?  No!  Did we care about getting paid?  OH HELL YES!

It was the desire to make money that appealed to us the most on this venture.  It had been a good but yet a slow summer and we were not playing often enough and in the right rooms to separate ourselves from a lifestyle of small food portions or dining at our parents houses as much as possible.  So the prospect of getting paid for a project that on the surface looked like a great idea…well it was “HEAVENLY” to say the least.

The Devil and Rock and Roll Part 2

So after the excitement of getting paid wore off and our cries of jubilation died down, we began to ask the questions that were standard requirements of any discussion on compensation, like…

  • What denomination were the bills?
  • Were they going to be unmarked and in random sequence?
  • Was it in U.S. currency or Canadian?
  • Did we have to wear masks when we went to pick it up?

The answer or answers to our question were the domain of the project’s backer, and let’s call him “Ron”.

Ron was a synthetic-wearing, cigar-wielding huckster that had gained some legitimacy and notoriety by his frequent appearances in the local entertainment weeklies.  Ron wanted to be a film producer along the lines of Russ Meyer and unfortunately for most but fortunately enough for him; a lot of people were in awe of his “rainmaker” energy.  He didn’t need a camera to frame a scene.  Sometimes in mid-sentence he would break away, frame his fingers and say “Rrrrrrroll-em” and start to direct an impromptu scene.  To be honest the first meeting we had with Ron, we kind of got caught up in it and with unbridled enthusiasm went along with shtick.  The reasons why, would have been quite obvious if you had been there.  You had the “still naïve about the ways of world” band in one corner and in the opposite corner were a bevy of bodacious beauties that we found out were professional strippers.  Ron was a smart guy!  I don’t think any man or even some women could have resisted their charms.  Everything they did hinted at great possibilities.  Let your imagination just wander…go ahead…and while you’re thinking about what if you get a touch or you hear the laughter that says, “Yes, I’m with you…all the way”!

Now I know exactly what you are thinking…  “WHAT A SAP!”  “WHAT A SUCKER!”  “HOW NAÏVE CAN YOU GET!”  Well, you do have to understand that not being the type of young men that frequented such establishments or associated with women that flaunted their sexuality in such a casual manner…we were overwhelmed.  It was for me a mind-numbing…knee-knocking…heart-thumping…toe-curling…spine-snapping…palm- sweating experience.  Sitting there knee-to-knee with this princess of sexual delight, I think we were all on a high…mommy wouldn’t have and daddy never did say that there would be a day like this!  If that wasn’t enough, two of the girls brushed their lips together and added fuel to our burning fantasy of our first rock and roll orgy.  Just like the devil he was, Ron thought that was the best time…the most opportune moment to produce the contract for the music and concert.  Though we were severely distracted and under much physical stress, we were not so far gone that we didn’t do a collective “WHOA!” and break out of our stupor and immediately focus on the document before us.

Demonstrating that we weren’t “born stupid”, we insisted on taking the document home for further review.  We then went back to our lusting!

The Devil and Rock and Roll Part 3

We took the contract to our local union office to have them look it over for us.  As paid-up union members, we thought we should take advantage of our member benefits.  Our representative looked it over for us and deemed it fair and detailed enough for us to sign.  He also added that if we filed it through the union they would provide us with legal support if Ron refused to pay us.  We had the protection of the union so we were all set, or so we thought!

Our next meeting with Ron was more of the same.  The only difference was that he had only the prettiest girls with him.  One of them was especially nice and though she flirted, she more or less came across like Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in “Scarface.”   She smiled and “cooed” a lot and even wangled a ride home, but we all knew would never see her again.  And we were cool with that.

After that we went to work on writing songs for the play.  They had given us an outline to use and off we went.  We came up with several good songs that had a “King Crimson” or Emerson, Lake and Palmer feel, a lot of reverb, echo, rotating speaker effects, synthesizer and percussion.  We also adapted some songs we had already written too.  These were straight ahead rockers and always got a great response when they were performed. 

As we progressed, something else was going on.  We never saw Ron again and the visits from the “Gang of Sixes” became less frequent as time went by.  Ultimately, they stopped all together.  We went to the union and they said there was nothing they could do.  Image that, after all of that “speechifyin” and “folderol” we were subjected to.  There is nothing they can do!  So in the spirit of those great “Andy Hardy” movies starring Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Lana Turner, we said “LET’S PUT ON A SHOW!”  And so we did.

The Devil and Rock and Roll Part 4

Since we decided to go on with the show it was up to us to make all of arrangements, secure contracts, place advertising, and sell tickets, etc.  It was fun, but not without a few trying moments.  Nerves got frayed, but we mustered on.  We, like anybody that ever had a dream, took it to the max.  We rented tympanis, a gong, and a melotron.   Jim even got a chance to use the theatre’s famous pipe organ.  I have the tapes of the two classic performances we gave that night.  Time has not been a friend to the audio quality of the tapes but the last time I listened to them I just closed my eyes and I was transported to a large concert facility in anywhere, USA and we were rocking it out!  I called upon every guitar god’s technique I had ever admired…Hendrix, Clapton, Jeff Beck and Ted Nugent of course.  But the best part was when we were asked to do an encore; the song we chose to play was “Louisiana Blues”, the Foghat version, but it was “Muddy Waters” nonetheless!

A few weeks after the show, we got a letter from Chris/666.  He said that he saw the show and that we had musically done exactly like he would have wanted it to be.  It was a piece of creative beauty because it had all of the elements his play would have required and that we had done well by our logo (hahahahaha).  Like I said, we never heard from Ron nor saw any of those girls again…not even in the entertainment weeklies.  It really doesn’t matter…it’s a nice story with a happy ending anyway!

Back In The Saddle!

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“Back in the Saddle Again” by Gene Autry

It was a cool September morning, when the truck pulled into the driveway.  After a brief greeting, a handshake and a hug we loaded up the truck and were on our way.  It was a three-hour drive to our destination and we were anxious to get there.  It had been several years since the last onstage performance of the original members of the locally relevant band Code Blue and though we were very familiar and comfortable with each other’s ability there was still a feeling of uncertainty in the air.  The plan was to perform as a quartet, but just a day before the performance, the keyboardist, my brother Isaac “Little Top” Littsey, had taken ill and would not be up to taking the trip.  Such is the life of a working musician; you know the old saying…“The Show Must Go On!”

The time spent on the road was filled with reminiscing and not-so-tall-tales about people we hadn’t seen in awhile and performances from way back when.  Tom Mayer, our drummer who had returned from a long sojourn in Paris, France, regaled me with some of his experiences as an American working overseas.  His French was better than some peoples English and though he had a wonderful time you could tell he was glad to be back home.  So glad, that we compared his return to that of a returning war veteran.  There were so many friends and acquaintances to see, it was a bit of a challenge to spend time with his parents, Carl and Margaret and his sister Amy.  Soon the tour would be over and he would be able to settle into a normal routine once again.

When we finally arrived at the home of our bass player John Adams, we are all smiles.  John, who is a great cook, had the grill going and our pre-gig meal was almost finished.  I had to take a quick look at his garden, it’s twice the size of mine, and received a quick dose of “pepper envy”.  His peppers, as with most of what he was growing, were big and fat…just ripe for picking!  Row upon row of vegetables…beans, tomatoes, squash, beets, lettuces, herbs…you name it, growing quite impressively in his garden.  Tom thought it was pretty funny that we could go from businessmen to musicians to gardeners in a matter of seconds.  Maybe it is because of our shared backgrounds…we all work in advertising, we love to perform and we have a real appreciation for the beauty of nature. We are able to move back and forth from one mutual interest to another with relative ease.

After dinner, which was simple yet tasty, we create the set list for the night’s performance.  I was going to use the guitar of our recently departed friend and John’s brother-in-law Rob Finney, a mahogany Fender Telecaster, as a simple tribute/dedication.  Plus, this style or model of guitar was the instrument of preference of one of my heroes, the late and great Muddy Waters!  Knowing that we were going to be onstage for approximately two hours we had a lot of songs to choose from and settled on doing a classic blues set with the typical Code Blue-style twists.  The songs were:

  • Help Me
  • Boom Boom
  • Highway 49
  • Spoonful
  • Tin Pan Alley
  • Hucklebuck
  • Louisiana Blues
  • Evil
  • Rock Me Baby
  • The Same Thing
  • Wee Wee Baby
  • How Many More Years
  • Wang Dang Doodle
  • Mannish Boy

We were doing material by all of the greats…Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King.  We hoped to entertain and we did!

When we got into the beautiful town of Niles, Michigan we were greeted by the promoter of the concert and were given several copies of that day’s newspaper.  There we were on the front page of the town’s paper (just below the fold) with a nice story about the band.  Here it is in its entirety…

 

“Blues band wraps up Thursday night concerts!”

 

“The last Thursday night free concert of the season, blues band Code Blue, will play from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Niles Riverfront Amphitheater.

Originally a five-piece blues band that was launched in the late 1980’s, Code Blue virtually from the very start has been a featured performing act and has played most of the major blues rooms and festivals in southeast Michigan.

Featuring the voice and guitar work (lead guitar and slide) of “Little Brother Arthur David” Littsey, the band is known for its hard driving “Chicago-influenced” style of blues.  Arthur’s growl will remind listeners of either Louis Armstrong or the Howlin’ Wolf, and his guitar will either take concert-goers along the banks of the Mississippi, the cotton fields of the delta or the smoke filled barrooms of Bourbon Street.

But this band is not “Little Brother Arthur David” by himself.  Much has been said and written about the dynamic rhythm section of Johnny “Ace” Adams on bass guitar and Tommy “Tomcat” Mayer on the drums.  Very reminiscent of the tight sound of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s sidemen “Double Trouble” (Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton), these two provide the foundation that propels the sound of Code Blue like a train dieseling down the track.

An added treat for at any performance is Isaac “Little Top” Littsey on keyboards.  Isaac is the older brother of “Little Brother” and is more or less responsible for giving Arthur his stage name.  “Little Top” follows in the tradition of another great keyboardist, namely Booker T. Jones (of the MGs).  His rich Hammond organ sound clearly adds another ingredient to the mix turning it all into a rich “blues stew” that is not only tasty, but very funky too.”

 

When we were introduced we received a few humorous comments about being a Detroit-based blues band with a “Chicago” style or sound and continued to confused the audience by playing the songs in a way that showed tremendous understanding and respect for the genre but not a note-by-note reproduction of the material.  Each song was given a warm applause, hopefully not just because of the audience’s familiarity with the material but for our interpretations.  Since we had practiced as a quartet, playing as a three piece made us think and perform each song differently than what was planned.  But at the end of the night we were as happy about our performance as the audience was.  In fact, we were even asked to do an encore…“I’ve Got My Mojo Working”.  Code Blue had it’s mojo workin’ and we can’t wait to crank it up again soon! 

 

 “Back In The Saddle” by Aerosmith

The BYRDLAND or How I Met Ted Nugent

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Gibson Byrdland

Image via Wikipedia

 In honor of Ted Nugent‘s appearance this Saturday at DTE Music Theatre (Pine Knob as it is stilled called), I thought I would tell the story as to how I met “Terrible Ted” and why he is not so terrible if you were to ask me.

Back in the late sixties guitar players were gods and everybody had hitched their wagons to  one “god” or another.  Of course there were those that were into Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, Green, Townsend, Sheldon Kay and more, and though I liked them all, I focused on one local player who at the time had the greatest band in the city…Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes!  Ted absolutely destroyed everybody that grew up in the George Harrison style of rock and roll guitar.  His was a sonic blast that in many ways, as you know, put him in a lot of the conversations about American guitar players.  And the best reason for making Ted my personal guitar hero was that I could see him frequently…very frequently in fact…almost on a monthly basis.

In addition to the event I am about to describe, I had two previous encounters with the “Nuge” and a third  opportunity, that came later.  The third was having the thrill of actually being on his first live record, “Survival of the Fittest–Rock Bottom”!  I made a significant contribution to the record which was recorded at the now closed Easttown Theatre.

Now back to my story.  Ted was playing a concert in Windsor, Ontario at the Windsor Ice Arena sometime in the spring or fall of 1970.  My best friend at the time Marcus Dawson, who also happened to be the bass player in my band Merlin, and I went to the show.  We went to so many of the Amboy Duke concerts that we were starting to get recognized by some of his people, which shouldn’t have been too surprising as we were usually the only black people there.

During the concert we were allowed to go backstage and hang out.  There were a lot of people there…mostly girls of course…and they had the “we have all been here before” look about them.  Since this was our first time being backstage, we tried desparately to look like we belonged there too…it wasn’t easy, but we managed to get by.

Those of you who are reading this and have been to some of Ted’s earliest concerts  know that at the end of his show, Ted had a little ritual he would perform before doing his encore.  He would go offstage, change into a loincloth and comeback out with a bow and arrow to shoot at some prop.   He would also have his backup Byrdland guitar amped and with both guitars howling with feedback…he would scream, “AND NOW WE ARE ONE”!

So when Ted went offstage to change and get his other guitar,  he looked around…holding the one guitar, he needed a place to put it while he prepped the other.  30 maybe 40 pairs of hands reached out for the guitar…”I’ll hold for you Ted…”Please let me”…were the chants/cries from the crowd.  I turned and walked away, believing that there was absolutely no way that I, “Little Arthur David” (this was before I added “Brother” to the mix) would be chosen to hold his guitar.  I walked a good 50 ft from the crowd plus another 5 ft from where Ted was standing.  Feeling somewhat dejected, I turned to see Ted step through the crush of people and stride purposefully toward me and say, “Hey man…will you hold my guitar”?  He gave me, Arthur David Littsey, his guitar to hold!  ME!  OH WOW!  I couldn’t believe it.  My first inclination was to run, but seriously how far would I get!  My eyes danced over it…the gold plated tuning gears and bridgework…the super low action…the knobs…it was soooooooooo pretty!  My fingers floated over the strings as I suddenly fantasized about being on stage with Ted dueling it out on “Good Natured Emma” or “Migration” or “Baby, Please Don’t Go“!  All of this took place in about 60 seconds as thats about how long it took for Ted to pick up his other guitar and head back on stage to finish his set.

Yes, for nearly 60 seconds I had held Ted Nugents’s Byrdland guitar.  Dear Diary…I’m in heaven…HEAVEN!

We went back out in front to catch the end of the show.  We heard that there was a party somewhere afterward, but being the good boys we were and because we had promised our parents we would come right home after the concert, we didn’t go.  Plus, this was a Sunday night and we had classes first thing Monday morning.  I was floating regardless…my head was in the clouds and my feet were way up and off the floor!

I went out not long after that night and bought that guitar and I would bet my friend Howard Kalish will remember the times in which when I owned it.  I had to have it.  The one I bought was a 1968 Gibson Byrdland.  Ted used the ’66 and ’67 models.  He mostly used blond Byrdlands on stage but he also had a tobacco sunburst model as well as a black lacquered one.  It was supposed to cost me $600, I put $200 down and walked out of Gus Zoppi Music Store with it.  That $200 went a long way because I used that to get my 1957 Les Paul Deluxe.  How that happened is another story by itself.

So that was and will always be one of the most significant musical highlights of my life.  Having that moment…sharing it with a friend…was huge!  It affected me in some ways that will be forever positive.

 

 The Journey to the Center of the Mind!

http://youtu.be/UN2VNFpiGWo

Thanks for the memories!!!

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