Elements – Earth, Wind and Fire on Soul!

Since finishing the book, and this blog post about Maurice White, I’ve been digging through some of my other archives. I found an amazing live performance from the groundbreaking WNET show Soul! broadcast on January 10th, 1973.

The accompanying video, the shows are available via pbs.org in some regions, and via WNET Thirteen, if you can access them. A low res version of which can be seen below via Youtube, is perhaps remarkable for a number of reasons. It documents a group in the midst of change.

The original Earth, Wind and Fire had recorded two albums for Warner Brothers, and then fell apart, as many groups do, with arguments over this, that, money etc. in 1972. This performance featured the core members of what had become EWF 2.0. Cleaves would move on, Ronnie Laws had billing on the recording, but had already quit, others would be added over time.

Featured in this recording were:

Maurice White – Kalimba, Vocals and Percussion
Jessica Cleaves – Vocals
Philip Bailey – Vocals and Congas
Johnny Graham – Guitar
Verdine White – Vocals and Bass
Larry Dunn – Organ and Electric Piano
Ralph Johnson – Drums
Andrew Woolfolk – Sax and Flute

This is the group, plus Andrew McKay, that would go on later in 1973 to record their 4th album, Head to the Sky.

Their dress style hadn’t started evolving yet, here they were dressed, as you’d expect for early 1970’s, their performance style had though. As the last number finished, the group disappeared from the stage, leaving just Ralph Johnson.

Musically, the group show what would become their trademark for the next 10-years, across albums and countless hit singles. The performance opens with one of the best  videos of Maurice White playing the Kalimba; his fingers and thumbs rapidly producing what would become a trademark, and unique sound.

Philip Bailey shows his amazing vocal range on, as far as I’m aware, their only recording of , James Taylors Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight. There is, as there alway would be, the omni-present, bare chested, Verdine White and his amazing bass playing.

The group is already tight and the tracks here, some from the 3rd album Last Days and Time including the opening song, Power.

Overall, for me, this recording has all the elements that made Earth, Wind & Fire. Enjoy.

Earth, Wind and Fire; life and guidance

foto_20190111_100904Over the year-end I read the Maurice White, Herb Powell penned autobiography, “My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire”. It was both an interesting read, and revelatory.

While my early teens were heavily influenced by David Bowie, my late teens and in some respects the rest of my life was heavily influenced by the sound, and especially the mystical guidance that seemed to be coming from the group, led by it’s founder and bandleader, Maurice White.

White’s spiritual approach gave endorsement to my own uncomfortableness with my Christian upbringing and doubt that a single “God” existed. I never met White, but in the way you idolize someone, I thought I knew him through his music. I didn’t at all.

The book itself covers all the key phases of his life, and especially the struggles and troubles he wanted people to know about. His youth in Memphis was shocking. Yes, I guessed it wouldn’t be good, as a black kid in Memphis in the 40’s and early 50’s but it was worse than a white kid from England born in the 50’s could imagine. In many ways, I assume the events described, meant that Maurice spent much of his life searching for meaning, and examining ways to find context for what had happened to him.

As well as his long path through music until he hit success with Earth, Wind & Fire, the books chronicles Whites, obvious to me, struggles with commitment and identity. We all need stories in our lives to make sense of them, to understand  why you are, who you are, and the book covers Whites journey to understand his stories. Notwithstanding all that Whites’ story really had some great commentary and lessons on surviving in the music business.

Rocks Back Pages has a revealing and frank interview with Maurice, by Cliff White, from I assume London during the 1979 tour, which I attended. RBP also has a list of articles which contains some useful background.

Surprisingly, NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), doesn’t seem to have an interview with Maurice, but it does have interviews with Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, and Larry Dunn, all of which are really interesting and add great context.

ewf tatooI came to Earth, Wind & Fire in 1974, via Ramsey Lewis Sun Goddess album in 1974 and then their Open Our Eyes album, and shortly afterwards, That’s The Way of the World.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I saw them live, but in the “long, hot” UK Summer of ’76, I stopped one afternoon in Dunstable to get a drink. We’d been out at the disused quarry on the A5, practising motocross. I was riding my Honda XL125.

Nextdoor to the corner store/newsagents I’d stopped at, was a tattoo parlour. Back in the 70’s tattoos were not the fashion items they are today, my dad had a traditional, simple knife and heart tattoo on his left arm, but few people I knew did. I walked in, hand drew the logo that I’d seen on EWF albums, and asked for a tattoo. Not only had the tattoo artist not seen the shape/sign before, I had no idea what it was.

These days of course, with the pervasive internet, you’d just google and look up tattoos on pinterest and see what you can find. Of course these days I know it’s the astrological sign for Jupiter.

Like many, my interest in EWF faded in the Mid 80’s as the group fragmented, and the focus drifted. As I work to digitize my entire vinyl collection though, I’ve once again found their tight music, soaring vocals, and inspiring lyrics a great launching point for many parts of my own story, which started on the 23rd night of September. Kalimba.

Remembering Terry Callier

Terry Callier
Terry Callier. Image by Johan Palmgren

Today is the 6th anniversary of the passing of Terry Callier.

I’ve been meaning to write this in time for the anniversary of his death for at least the past 3-years. After really enjoying his Hidden Conversations album [youtube playlist], I put it on my to-do list and here it is. I’ve tried not to just repeat all the other obituaries and rather make this more of a retrospective.

I don’t recall precisely when I became aware of Terry, sometime in the late 1990’s. Probably in some activity or performance around the 1998 release of his Timepeace album. My favorite Callier track, as I suspect many of his UK fan base was the eponymous Ordinary Joe, only bettered by the Nujabes 2005 album remix version.

Terry and his music reminded me why, and rekindled my love of soul music. His style, reminiscent in many ways of Gil-Scott Heron, lyrics often protest or love based. The ying/yang of soul music.

Callier, a Chicago native, he grew-up in the same Cabrini neighborhood as Major Lance, Jerry Butler, Ramsey Lewis and Curtis Mayfield also Charles Stepney, and via his early recording on Chess, house drummer Maurice White, who with Stepney went on to create the Earth, Wind and Fire sound and extravaganza. That area of Chicago was a petri dish for soul music. Callier though was largely undervalued and overlooked in the US. His style, his music, and his personality didn’t fit into a music business stereotype.

Part preacher, part activist, gentle soul, unassuming, and real Dad, Callier was renowned for making short term decisions based only on what was right. He effectively quit the music business in the mid-80’s to become a full time Dad and support his daughter who decided she wanted to stay in Chicago and attend high school there.

By the mid-90’s though, Callier got caught up in the whirlwind of being an American black musician is the UK. It’s something that happens to you, and for you, if you let it. Unlike the American music scene, where you still have to fit into a predetermined stereotype, and your music has to be classified within a narrow band, so it can be sold across a vast market. It Britain, your music has to be good, not exceptional, and YOU have to be adopted, and malleable enough to adapt to the your adopted market.

A great current example of this is Gregory Porter. He’s already Nationally famous in the UK, sells out the largest venues and can regularly be seen on TV. He is even front man for his own series on the BBC, Gregory Porters Popular Voices.

Callier was not just exceptionally authentic, after years of neglect by the US music industry, he was excited to absorb the admiration and inquisitive demand from the UK music industry, and especially the artists. Calliers music blossomed, not just his past work, but his future work. The story of how Acid Jazz founder Eddie Pillar contacted Callier and brought him back to music, is included in pretty much every write-up about Terry, including this obituary from his hometown paper, the Chicago Herald Tribune. In a Guardian article/interview by Tom Huron, following Calliers death in 2012, Pillar himself tells how this came about.

Hey, wassup? It’s Terry, Callier, I got a new way to flow for Ordinary Joe, you know!

and with those words, as he opened his return to music and introduction to the UK at a sold out 100 Club in London, 1991. In the years that followed via both label agreements, and through exposure getting absorbed into the emerging UK hip-hop scene. Over the coming years, Callier was involved in Giles Petersons UK label, Talkin’ Loud, stable-mate Urban Species; this low-res home recording of Callier and Urban species on the autonomous Later with Jools Holland, shows Terry in great form playing the soul man to the hip-hop

His work continued with Beth Orton, and not just samples, as is often suggested, but entire new tracks and collaborations, like “Bother to Brother” with Paul Weller, released on UK label Mr Bongo , the haunting Love Theme from Spartacus with north London duo Binns, Hardackers, Zero 7 who became a leader in the then emerging Chillout scene; and many more. It’s the collaborations with Massive Attack though that are the best for me, especially the music, lyrics and video for Live with Me.

Callier, like many others, including Alexander O’Neal have found the UK Soul, Jazz, Dance music scene much more compelling than the USA. It’s geographically smaller, much more diverse, less racially profiled and it’s had a successful business span of 50 plus years, and continues today.

It’s easier to perform live, you can get to most of it within day. Musicians and fans can stay home, or at the very least avoid flying to get to gigs. Word travels fast, and there is a national media who broadcast news and tv, that doesn’t require you to spend months on a tour bus in order to spread the word. Most of all the charts are not segregated. When you make #57, as Terry did with Love Theme from Spartacus, it was behind Madonna, Simply Red, RUN-D.M.C. and everyone else, not in a narrowly defined segment.

Calliers real impact can be measured by the fact that the BBC, and the major British broadsheets(the serious papers), The Guardian , The Independent all ran obituaries as well as the New York Times, Most remarkable though, perhaps, was the 2012 Terry Callier Tribute Concert at the Islington Assembly Halls. The youtube video, below, captures the beauty of Terry and his music. His original version of Love Theme to Spartacus.

I would rather be playing music, but what’s important isn’t always what you want, and what you want isn’t always what’s important. Isn’t that the truth?” – Terry Callier

Keep Terrys name alive!

Three to follow-up with:

Read: Jazzusa,com Interview with Terry – Terry Callier, Reluctant Musician

Hear: Massive Attack tribute Windmill Hill sessions.

See: Electronic Press Kit for Terry.

Terry Callier EPK from Alistair Batey on Vimeo.

Music (was my first love)

was the title of a great John Miles track from a 1976 John Miles album called Rebel. R-1785293-1295199568.jpeg[1]Strangely although I loved that track, it was one of the many I for the most part gave away, or sold for next to nothing in the Spring of 1983 when I moved to New York. I can remember to this day renting an estate car for the day and loading up the vinyl I wasn’t going to keep, and driving down to Kentish Town in London and offloading it all at some used record shop.

Of the some 2,000 albums I have now, I’ve been working through the general soul, jazz, dance, and disco albums from A-Z, over the last 2-years. I’ve learned a lot, and often go back and remaster favorite albums.

Remastering music, often involves compromises, since we’ll never hear the music as clearly as the musicians and engineers did at the time of recording. Not only don’t we have the instruments in front of us, we don’t have the same range of speakers. Even the music on standard commercial CDs is encoded at 16 bits, versus 24-bit recording in the studio.

Still, I think I’ve finally made a breakthrough. I’ve always recorded at 4800hz, 24-bit, but finally I did an album today that’s as good a the same album on ripped from the CD version at 24/4800.

 

Secret Agent: Top-10

I’ve spent the last year plus digitizing my vinyl collection for personal use. I’ve done all my general soul/jazz/jazz funk and disco artists from A-K. Which in total is only about 1/4 of the collection.

My passion though is collecting albums made by, former A&M  producer/A&R manager Creed Taylor.  CTI was initially a sub-label on A&M Records in the late 1960’s. There were a number of classic albums released including

10-Years earlier, a 28-year old Creed Taylor, was working with a small orchestra on a series of albums with Kenyon (Ken) Hopkins, one of jazz’s great composers and arrangers. Ken spent the 1950’s and 60’s in New York studios, where he became king of “the concept album.”

I spend a lot of time hunting both in person and online for affordable but good quality albums on the Creed Taylor CTI and Kudu labels. I have all but two of the Kudu label, I’ve had more than 50% of the label output since the late 1970’s. I’ve also had probably 40% of the CTI label. Buying the remainder has been a fun, rewarding experience, I’m working on ideas for the 50th anniversary of the labels in 2020.

A few weeks back I mentioned my CTI project to Rusty Hodge, founder of SOMA FM and he immediately came back with

I’d love to get some of Creed Taylor’s “crime” stuff for Secret Agent.

I’ve had all four of the Hopkins/Taylor concept albums for a few years, but aside from the Sound of New York, never played them. They were really only there for completeness. While you can get some of the albums from specialist UK outlets Sounds of the Universe and Boomkat as downloads, they just don’t have the same atmosphere as the original mono albums, and especially after some re-engineering.

I was delighted to see four of the tracks in the SOMA FM Secret Agent by spins chart this week.

The four albums I’ve worked on for SOMA FM are as follows, interestingly these albums are not mentioned in either the Kenyon Hopkins or Creed Taylor wikipedia entries. I’ll have to see what else I can find out about that period. It is remarkable to me that Creed Taylor, possibly one of the key people behind the early Jazz > Funk evolution in the early 70’s was working on these soundtrack style albums 20-years earlier.

The Creed Taylor Orchestra album covers
Discogs listing page for the Creed Taylor Orchestra

You can sample the albums on youtube, you can buy MP3 downloads from Boomkat, or listen in on SOMA FM Secret Agent.

Ripping off customers

I saw the following tweet and literally laughed-out-loud. In the past two years I’ve got to the checkout confirmation step on music and theatre events and cancelled out and closed the browser window more times than I care to remember. Ticket “fees” and “convenience” charges are rampant.

The airline industry over the past year has gone the complete opposite direction, some forced by legislation, some by marketplace competition. They nickel and dime you for charges for everything. The Trump administration has rescinded a rule requiring Airlines to disclose baggage fees upfront. This rule previously made it easier to compare airfare prices across airlines.

Enjoy!

Skinheads, Mods and youth subculture

In my medium feed at the weekend was a link to a post titled “British skinheads in the 1980s were young, pissed, and stylish as hell“. I scanned through the pictures, read the accompanying text, and see just a very small slither of a culture and a style that I and my friends wouldn’t have been associated with in 1972, and would have rejected. Yeah some of us were involved it fights at Football matches, it was of it’s time.

As I sit here today, my clothes are still inspired and styled by those days, I’m even comfortable with a #1 haircut. While Richard Allens books Skinhead, Suedehead, Boot Boys, Skinhead Escapes, Smoothies, Terrace Terrors, Boot Boys and the final Mod Rule chronicled a generation, it’s unlikely that any single person experienced more that a few of the fictionalised events as youth culture was moving too fast.

Where I grew up in Hemel Hempstead we were almost exclusively white, and with London our nearest big city which had been hugely multicultural, for hundreds of years, racism just wasn’t a thing. So the toxic, hatred filled skinhead imagery of the 1970’s – 80’s just doesn’t ring true for me.

There are a few interesting videos online, two of the best by Don Letts. Letts was the DJ at the Roxy Club and before that, Chaguaramas, and we were there on New Years Eve 40-years ago at the Clash gig, we walked out, our time had passed. Letts films, especially the story of Skinhead, and it’s predecessor, the Fred Perry Sponsored, Subculture of British Music and Street Style take a serious look at the genre. I’d love the chance to talk to Don one day.

What is old is new again

One of the things I’ve had most fun with since going into “semi-retirement” or as I call it, retired-until-further-notice (RUFN), is being able to spend time getting back to the music and sound editing that I so much enjoyed at the end of the 1970’s.

MixES on tape 70’s stylE

Back then, doing dance music mixes, for they were true mixes using the technology available to me then, meant recording a series of tracks from vinyl albums and vinyl 7-inch and 12-inch vinyl to a cassette. Reel to Reel tape would have been easier, but wasn’t affordable. I would then play a track from vinyl, recording it to a cassette, with the other cassette which contained the first set of recorded tracks queued up on another player. Good times, I have a couple of mixes left from then on cassettes labelled Gone Single 1 to 3 and will post them online when I can.

In essence, I’d have to record every second track before starting to record the mix. That really didn’t make for much spontaneity, and mistakes mostly meant starting over. Still I enjoyed it, and used to record either the left or right of a stereo recording, and play that into the start of another track, beat matching as best I could, then stop the recording and restart with the complete stereo mix.

Getting the band back TOGETHER

It’s been fun getting all my vinyl back together, adding to it from my Cousin Bills Jazz/Funk/90’s stuff, a couple of crates of early 2000’s ex-DJ vinyls, and the equipment that I’ve collected over the last few years, including a Sony dual cassette deck, a Panasonic 8-track player, and the trusty Philips reel-to-reel tape deck along with a Music hall MMF 2.2 turntable.

8-Track veRSUS Cassette

Digitizing Miroslav Vitous Magical Shepherd album, from 8-track was an interesting exercise. I understand why they never really caught on, especially once cassettes became a thing. At least and some of the other 8-tracks I have, tracks are often split across the 8-track.

Unlike cassettes which are a length of tape, which has 4-tracks, two tracks per side, and you play one side, the tape collects on a single spool, and then you turn the cassette over, and run the tape across the head back on to the original spool. 8-Tracks are a continuous loop of tape, wide enough to hold 8-tracks, 2-tracks per loop. So what happens is you start the 8-track, the head plays two tracks of the eight, then when the loop gets back to the start, the tape is moved and the head plays the next two tracks and so on.

What that means practically is that the 8-track tape is never at the start, and never at the end. It also means the loop of tape is a fixed length, if the track is longer than the loop, it is split onto the next 2-tracks and there is a break in the middle. Any album had to be divided into 4 roughly equal programs.

In the UK home players were not a thing, the only place you could get 8-track players was in-car entertainmentinment. They were available both as factory fitted, and aftermarket installs. There is a great overview and intro to 8-tracks here.

I have fond memories of driving to photography jobs with Pete Ward of the Hemel Hempstead Gazette in his VW bug with a built-in 8-track player, playing mostly the Carpenters. It was a surprise when I learned that you could get your own blank 8-tracks, and then record onto them. Who knew?

Cassette Digitisation

I found a few cassettes that we’d recorded in the early 1980’s and used them to send back to family in the UK instead of writing letters. The quality wasn’t bad. We have some  Type III Ferrichrome / Ferro-chrome Audio Cassettes that were recorded on professional equipment. Compared to 8-track and even reel-to-reel tapes, the quality when digitised is pretty great. Here is an intro to one of the cassettes

The addition of Dolby Noise Reduction meant that the background hiss and other noises often associated with tape recording was gone forever, leaving the clarity heard in this example.

Back to Vinyl

Most of my time though has been digitising vinyl. I’ve developed a fairly painless process to clean vinyl, record it, and clean up, tag and save the digital files. I keep most of the vinyl as MP3. Yes, I know that has restrictions, but for the most part I can live with it for the convinience of streaming music around the house. I keep the raw .WAV files for everything I record, so I can always go back and go through the cleanup and tagging process again.

Favorite albums are saved in FLAC format including any live performance albums on the CTI/KUDU label.

My objective is later this year to produce mixes from the numerous performances of CTI/KUDU label. There are loads of professionally released albums engineered by the late Rudy van Gelder who for me was as important influence as, say, Giorgio Moroder. They contain many brilliant tracks, and sublime live solos, and deserve a wider hearing.

I’ll post another blog on the actual digitisation process I use later, but for now, what’s old is new again.

 

 

 

Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously.

The following is a pretty hard to believe story of what happens when you subscribe to the Apple Music service. This isn’t new, back in 2008, I got a call from Cassidy, she couldn’t find any of the music on her PC after installing iTunes to sync to her then, new ipod.

It was partly what I learned then that convinced me to never ever install iTunes or use Apple devices. I admit I was pre-disposed to not using Apple anyway.

Recently I’ve been backing up my digital music collection to Amazon Cloud Drive (unlimited everything) service. I’ve had lots of problems backing up 2.5Tb of music from my NetGear ReadyNAS RAID Array to the Amazon service via an intermediate PC. I’ve not got to the bottom of this yet, but the good news is the intermediate PC only has READ access to the music, so the original files cannot be deleted by the Amazon Windows app. However, I’ve got a lot of empty folders on the cloud service that are not empty of the NAS, and lots of directories that simply don’t get backed up.

The following article has some important lessons for anyone who deals with or creates their own music. Backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup.

Read on:

“The software is functioning as intended,” said Amber. “Wait,” I asked, “so it’s supposed to delete my personal files from my internal hard drive without asking my permission?” “Yes,” she replied. …

Source: Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously. | vellumatlanta

Talent or tradition?

chiy6b8u8aesdy_ Monday saw the announcement of what many are calling the concert of the century, which century is not clear. Maxim branded it “‘OLDCHELLA’ mega concert.

I just don’t get it. I admit, apart from McCartney, mostly from his Beatles era stuff, I was never a fan of any of these bands. Among our joint collection of some 20,000 albums, singles, and digital files, we only have around 100 from these artists, and the majority are Beatles.

Hopefully the ridiculously price includes insurance in case any of them die on stage during performances. Seriously, I don’t get this fascination with old bands. I understand they got ripped off by record companies when they were kids, and are now broke(not) and need supporting, but heck most of this lot are British and they get pensions, and free medical care for life…

There are a ton of young bands out there you can help with $1,000… have a look on kickstarter and Indiegogo etc. Become a producer, help create the next generation of bands, leave a legacy instead of putting more money into some rich pop stars who don’t need it.

I did this back in 2014 and would/will do it again, I was Executive Producer for Toyface first ever full album, Follow the rules of the trainwreck.

Support emerging artists, you know “oldchella” won’t really live up to your expectations.