|Posted by [email protected] on February 3, 2017 at 3:15 AM|
This is, more or less, an introduction to an ongoing blog about my experiences as someone who digs almost all kinds of music, but moreover, has a lot of respect for musicians. Well. that’s because as much as I try, I’m not very good at it. I’m lot better at listening to music than playing music.
I grew up in Tampa, Florida, and in the late 1940s and 1950s. My first memories of being aware of musical styles was when we used to drive from South Tampa out to North Tampa to visit my grandfather out in the country. We drove through three sections of town, Ybor City (Cuban), then through the Back section, and finally into the sparsely populated, White countryfied folks section.
The music drifting out of the various restaurants, juke joints, and honky tonks was a musical journey in and of itself. It went from Xavier Cugat (Afro Cuban) to Elmore James (searing Blues), to Hank Williams (Cajun country).
Tampa is the largest port in Florida; consequently, there was also a broader international and heavy Caribbean influences, and just across the bay was St. Petersburg, a bustling tourist town that drew around a half-million people during the winter months along with transients following the warm weather and winter jobs.
In St Pete, along with the ‘Snowbirds’ came the regional music from their neck of the woods. I got my first tastes of Jazz, Classical, and a plethora of Mid West and East Coast po’folks’ music while visiting my cousins who lived in St. Pete.
Then, there was the church music blasting out of the White and Black Pentecostal and Baptist churches on Sunday morning. Sunday church meetings the Deep South are events, not a sanctimonious occasions.
However, the real events were the the traveling Holy-Roller, tent revivals - they were the precursors to the TV evangelicals - lot’s of spirited entertainment with a healthy dose of hellfire and brimstone.On occasion, me and some friends used to pop a quarter into the box to go in and catch the show.
Leon Russell’s late 1960s and early 1970s concerts were based on a ‘Southern, tent revival meeting’ theme - his 1970 Fillmore East concert on Youtube is a brilliant example of the feeling and style. In his heyday, Leon fired the crowds up into a hand waving frenzy.
Sometimes, on Sunday afternoons, I used to go down to the Hillsborough River and watch the baptisms accompanied a string band, maybe some drums, and lots of sanctified singing. You ain’t never seen a baptism until you seen a Pentecostal or Baptist dunking baptism - so much for that solemn bullshit in establishment churches.
Florida was still pretty much wilderness back then, and I was fortunate enough to have a fairly impoverished childhood. For awhile, we lived in the country around people who were more impoverished than we were - they didn’t have electricity or running water. That’s where it gets interesting because the people had to make-do with what they had, and make their own entertainment. It was also where I saw people making homemade instruments from stuff the salvaged off scrap heaps and plucked out of trash fires.
Some of those people could reach out and touch your soul with with nothing more than a one string, diddley bow and their voice.
Moving through time, my real revelation came in 1959 at the Florida State Fair during the segregation days. Me and my chums climbed over the fence and were wandering around trying to pickup girls when I passed by a tent where a black guy was playing an electric guitar and shapely,dark skinned girls were dancing outside as a teaser - it was a Chit’lin Circut, Black Hoochie-Coochie show. It was guy playing the guitar that caught my attention, not the scantily clad ebony girls. In my fourteen years on this planet, I never saw anything like that before!
I immediately bought a ticket for fifty cents, but my friends were too chicken to be seen going into a Black show and being the only White folks there. The the Black and White sections were separated with a rope down the center of the aisle. I was the only person in the White section, but the Black folks side was SRO, and I was beginning to think I was the main attraction. However, when the performers hit the stage, the rope vanished, and I just became another face in the dancing crowd.
At the time, little did I know, the guitarist that mesmerised me was the legendary Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones). I had five dollars from collecting soda bottles, and I spent two bucks of it going back to watch him play. I was absolutely amazed at his stage style, singing, and virtuosity on the guitar.
The third time went back, the barker snatched my arm and whispered slyly. “You likes them chocolate drops, dont’cha?” It wasn’t the ebony girls, Guitar Slim done sanctified me or I got my soul possessed by Satan himself from listening to that music. That day changed my perception of reality - things ain’t never been the same since.
After that experience, to my ears, most all the Rock and Roll playing on the radio was was just perfunctory, soulless garbage, and I went exploring.
Late one night, I got tired of listening to the local Rock stations play the same ten tunes over and over again. While I was spinning the tuner dial, I came across Jimmy Reed playing “I ain’t Got You” on a Memphis station drifting in and out while bouncing off the ionosphere - some six hundred miles away. I became a big Jimmy Reed fan and still am - he was a genius at capturing fleeting moments and images in his simple, yet poignant lyrics.
The next day, I made an antenna out of window screen and mounted it on the roof so I could pick the station up, but the signal strength depended on it being late at night and conducive atmospheric conditions - not very dependable.
The same year year, I heard Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” and hustled up the money to buy his albums. That was the first turn on to Jazz - Ray was more than just an R&B man, he touched on everything.
He came to town the next year, and I begged, borrowed, and stole to get enough money to see that show.
Again, segregation was still in place, but Ray didn’t play for segregated audiences. There was a lot of redneck cops to make sure the salt and pepper didn’t get mixed together. They had a rope down the middle of the aisle again - but - it was an SRO crowd and the cops couldn’t do anything about the salt getting all mixed up with the pepper at the back of the auditorium. As far as race goes it was a toss-up as to who outnumbered who at that concert.
It was an experience because things like that make one realize the power of music to transcend prejudice and cultural differences.
Turned out that it was two, local Black operated radio stations that promoted the show. The next day, I checked out the stations. One station had the best, most diverse programing - it was like the forerunner to the first underground stations in the 1960s that played an eclectic range of music. They covered everything from popular R&B to Gospel, Soul, hard core Blues, and Jazz.
That’s when I got into Jazz - I heard Jimmy Smith’s “The Sermon” and was hooked. At the time, I didn’t know it, but I was also listening to cutting edge work by Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and Brubeck among others - 1959-60 was they year that Jazz took a new direction.
The Jazz DJs very knowledgable about every aspect of Jazz and backgrounds of the musicians; consequently, it was more like a college class than simply listening to the music.
I got to be friends with a couple of the DJ’s - I guess they found rather novel that a 15 year-old White boy was calling-in requesting a Bobby “Blue” Bland song or a piece by Horace Silver.
Back in those days, I had to keep my record collection and musical preferences under wraps from my peers because most of them were a bunch of stone cold, redneck racists - if they knew my taste in music, I’d have been getting my ass kicked or worse for being a “Nigger lover.”
One day, a friend who played drums in a band saw several Ray Charles and Muddy Waters’ albums in my record collection - turned out he was into the same music I was. That’s when I discovered it was musicians that I had the most in common with and got established in the underground - the fringes of society.
Since those days, I’ve had a good times, heard great music, and a had lot of great adventures.
I’ve been fortunate in that I had the opportunity to see many of the legendary musicians and groups perform live in small venues, and many before they became legends.
Over the years, my musical preferences shifted from Jazz to Rock to Blues to the avant garde, or whatever caught my fancy at the time, but I always go back to the Blues where my journey started - my roots - so basically that’s how this blog is going to work - “Flights of Fancy.”
Next Up: 50 Years Ago - “The Summer of Love”
Fifty years ago, a seismic event happened in San Francisco that not only changed the course of history, but the direction of music. The Counterculture movement was born from and driven by music: San Francisco was the epicenter of the “Counterculture” movement - the term, “Hippie” was coined there. The concert halls, Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom, were the Mecca for the top acts in the world and drew thousands of people to the Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park in 1967. The first international pop festival, “The Monterey Pop Festival,” happened that summer featuring Otis Redding. At Monterey, Jimi Hendrix set fire to his guitar, and Pete Townshend smashed his guitar to pieces - it was history in the making. By a fluke of fate, I was there to be a part of all of it.