Sunday, April 30, 2006

Latitude 42°30' - Longitude 83°

Yesterday's post reminded me of this record. I remember seeing a picture of it on the inner sleeve of another record, and thinking, "I'll never ever find that one...". But somehow, a copy turned up. It has a rare and special quality. This is jazz, with a funk edge, but it is a perfect example of jazz as reportage, describing a community through music. You might have Left Your Heart in San Francisco, you might love New York, New York, you might dream of Galveston, you might even hear London Calling, but only one city has an entire album capturing its everyday scenes and sounds... Latitude 42°30' - Longitude 83°, Yusef Lateef's Detroit...

Let's start our tour, with the words of Saeeda Lateef...

"Detroit. Automobiles. G.M., C.M., A.M. Mark of Excellence! Factories, foundries, gases, grease, grime, smoke, black-out, shake-out, lay pipe, cement: mixer, mixing. Metal. Black sand, Sweet Sweat. Dig ditch, fill hole, carry hod, shift weight, carry hod, step back! Carry hod.
Stage show! Arcade, Dunbar, Castle, Willis and Warfield - potatoes for admission on Saturday between 12:30 and 4:00 pm. Fifteen cents, otherwise. Freedom of action, unrestricted. Thirteen Spirits of Swing - Matthew Rucker, Milt Buckner. The Duke, The Count, The King, The Prince, The Earl. Royalty at its BEST! Sessions at the West End ... Joe Brazil's basement...
Wide boulevards, welfare shoes with cardboard soles ... but shoes! Walking, delivering newspapers, tear down old barn, sell wood, rags - good old, sweet old, happy old ragman - rusty old iron man. Howling dogs. Withered old fishermen. Fishing, Detroit River, river ripples, blue lakes, perch; WOW! A lake-trout! Two feet long! Right out of the river - the Detroit River.
One tree. One big tree in the Bishop School yard. A little exercise bar beneath it. Goat-Latin, hamburgers, doughnuts (day old, week old). Bulldog gingerbeer. Milk and graham-crackers. Drwaing pictures of favorite funnypaper characters ... Barney Google, Spark Plug, Skippy, Olive Oyl and Popeye, Little Orphan Annie and Sandy. Mary Jane and Dum-Dum suckers. Hide and seek - FUN! eduf - da -iduf - da - oduf -da - eduf - da- oduf..."

Yusef Lateef's Detroit (Atlantic SD1525 1969)

Continue our tour of Yusef Lateef's Detroit at these posts: Eastern Market, Woodward Avenue, and Belle Isle.

A CD of this classic description of growing up in pre-60s Detroit can be found at A biography of Yusef Lateef can be found at

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Toto, we're not in Topeka anymore...

I read recently about events in the school board of Omaha, Nebraska. It has been proposed that the public school system in the city be divided into three geographical zones. However, as is the nature of most American cities, this zoning just happens to correspond broadly with the black, hispanic and white concentrations of the school-age population. While the stated intention is to deal with inequality for African-American schoolchildren by creating what in Britain is called an 'education action zone', this version seems to neglect the fact that funding for public schools in the USA comes primarily from the district itself. Remove the wealthier white districts from the taxable base for northern Omaha City, and lose the biggest slice of funding for those who most need it. Even on an educational level, the proposal seems flawed, since unlike in UK models, where it is easier to find a mixture of communities and schools in a fairly compact area, I cannot see how the important partnerships between 'successful' and struggling schools will occur, when geography and a divided education authority are acting as barriers. Already, it is admitted that the simple act of busing of students has long since been abandoned. So, if other public schools will have no incentive to assist each other, the shortfall in funding is going to have to come from the commercial sector, unless the black and hispanic communities can muster the talents and resources from within themselves. And if they can do that, and I believe they can, why did local politicians not support them long ago, rather than wait to support zoning changes?...

It is interesting to see that the chief proponent of this change is Senator Ernie Chambers, an African-American who has a long distinguished career serving his community, a voice of the dispossesed and discounted. "There is no intent to create segregation," says Sen. Chambers. He has long criticised the lack of resources for the northern part of town. He hopes for more local control of what happens there. He may have walked right into a trap white conservatives might never have dreamed was possible. Or, perhaps not. Sen. Chambers is known as "The Defender of the Downtrodden", and has a penchant for plain speaking as he unapologetically fights for his corner of the city. He decries 'color-blind' politics that really mask the inequalities around us, and would rather say things out loud if it will help get things done. So, to find out more about Ernie Chambers go to his page at the Nebraska State Legislature, and also read this fascinating and entertaining interview with "The Maverick of Omaha" at, where he sets out why children's education shouldn't be left in the hands of the cosy "Repelicans and Demagogues".

Today's recording is linked to this theme, and is taken from the recording of a speech given by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr at the Detroit Freedom Rally on June 23rd 1963. In this segment of his speech, he discusses what African-Americans can do about segregation in the South, in which he reminds them, of course, about the ever-present ...

Segregation In The North - Rev. Martin Luther King Jr (Gordy Records G906 1963)

Incidentally, I remember that my local record dealer had found this record on a trip to Arizona, and was sorry to part with it. I've played it many a time to students in history lessons, so it is still playing its part in the freedom struggle!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Roosevelt Grier: A Man And A Half

Roosevelt Grier's classic single, Pizza Pie Man, is a slice of darkly humourous social commentary on relationships. It was released on D-Town Records in 1966.

The man behind the song has one of the most remarkable lifestories of any soul singer. He was a celebrated american football star in the late 50s and early 60s, playing as a fair-minded tackler for the New York Giants and the LA Rams as part of the Fearsome Foursome. Even while he was playing, he had ventured into music, starting in 1959 with 'Sincerley', He was moderately successful, but came to the attention of Bobby Darin, who produced and co-wrote songs for an album titled Soul City in 1964. Darin had first heard him sing on a jingle for Falstaff Beer. Darin said, "I knew right away that I wanted to record him, the only question was -how? However, Darin started to sense a deeper, more political side to Roosevelt that he had not at first suspected: "... The only time his eyes lit up with all-out enthusiasm was on 'message' songs ... vital, citified expressions of longing and need."

Rosey also embarked on an acting career in 1964 that saw him feature in over 80 television shows, including Daniel Boone, and Roots: The Next Generation.

But most significantly, it was in 1968 that he offered his services as a bodyguard to his friend, Senator Robert Kennedy. At the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, on June 5th 1968, the assassin Sirhan Sirhan shot Kennedy. It was Roosevelt Grier and Rafer Johnson, Olympic gold medal-winner, who tackled Sirhan to the ground. Alas, it was too late to save the Senator some believed would have taken a more radical stance on issues of race in the USA. This sense of hope lost should be tempered by the Kennedy's decidedly lukewarm approach towards civil rights legislation and towards the movement generally under Jack's presidency, and their hesitancy to use the muscle of the federal government towards such aims.

What is undeniable is that it was the personal, selfless heroism of Roosevelt Grier which almost gave America the chance to find out.

Pizza Pie Man is available on the Soul Sampler Vol 1 CD at Buy it and you won't regret it!

Today, Grier is a practising Christian minister, has been a patron of the Special Olympics and works with an LA faith-based charity called World Impact. He has also been associated with the American Neighborhood Enterprises scheme, which works with inner-city communities to offer help with housing and vocational training schemes. It is his recent activism that has brough Grier in for some criticism from those who see his projects as ostensibly following the 'self-help' doctrines of Booker T Washington, and thus implicitly accepting the racial stereotyping of African-Americans as 'lazy' and 'feckless'. Read Deborah Toler's article for titled 'Black Conservatives', which expands on this opinion, and cites other more controversial black American figures as perhaps justifiable targets. However, for local, grassroots activists of long-standing such as Grier, it does seem a little harsh to portray him as some kind of deluded tar-baby, betraying black identity. It feels like an attack on your father because you wish he was the myth you grew up believing in, and its easier than fighting the real enemies, who are just too powerful and in a sense have already won...

POSTSCRIPT 19.4.07: Browsing other things, I came across an article by Avery Tooley at Stereo Describes My Scenario, where he descusses the conflicting responses he feels towards the message of Black Conservative politicians. Click here to read it.

(much of this information comes from articles by Sandra Brennan and Andrew Hamilton, both accessible at , and the Bobby Darin fansite at

Monday, April 17, 2006

Jamo Thomas: Must I Holler, Must I Let Myself Go?

Here is the first post on classic soul singers that deserves wider attention. It's Jamo Thomas, who made the journey from the Bahamas to Chicago and recorded at Chess, Decca and Thomas in the 1960s. Jamo recorded tracks such as Stop The Baby, Arrest Me, Jamo's Soul, a good version of I Spy For The FBI, Bahama Mama and Nassau Daddy, but my personal favourite is Must I Holler? It was recorded around 1966 for Chess Records, and while it is ostensibly a story of unrequited desire, it also feels like a plaintive cry of anguish that a life that looks so good is so far from the reach of African-Americans, and yet no matter how hard he tries to tell white America about the disparity, nobody is listening ...

I came across some more information about Jamo Thomas' early career in the late 50s, working with Bobby Peterson.

In 1958 Bobby teamed up with sax player Joe Pyatt, who needed a singer and key- board player for his new combo and the Bobby Peterson Quintet was born. The other members were David Butler (drums), Chico Green (bass) and Jamo Thomas (congas and bongo). They made six remarkable singles for Buddy Caldwell's Philly-based V-Tone label between 1959 and 1961, before disbanding permanently in 1962.

The band started to play in clubs with a mixed repertoire of current R&B hits, Ray Charles favourites and a few originals, when Lawrence Kerrin, a local talent scout and promoter, heard them at the Skyway Inn in southwest Philadelphia. Kerrin and Joe Pyatt collaborated writing the Quintet's first single, a simple sax/piano instrumental called The Hunch. Kerrin introduced the combo to Buddy Caldwell, who operated his new V-Tone and Len labels out of the back of his upholstery store on Ridge Avenue. The Hunch (c/w the vocal track Love You Pretty Baby) managed to climb to # 71 on Billboard's national pop charts, but a note-for-note cover by Paul Gayten on the Gordy family's embryonic Anna imprint did slightly better, peaking at # 68 in November 1959.

The quintet followed this up with a powerful two-part instrumental, Rockin' Charlie, which was used as a theme by ace deejay Jocko Henderson. They began doing one-nighters up and down the eastern seaboard, and were brought to Chicago by Buddy Caldwell to record their third single, the great Irresistible You (written by Luther Dixon), coupled with a wild instrumental, Piano Rock. "Irresistible You" went to # 15 R&B and # 96 pop in the autumn of 1960 ; Bobby Darin would record the song a year later and take it to # 15 pop. The group was now touring all over the country, with stars like Jackie Wilson, Jerry Butler and Smokey Robinson.

Been Saving My Love For You/Three Street was the fourth V-Tone single for the Bobby Peterson Quintet. Released in early 1961, it was not as strong as the first three, but still sold quite well. One Day/ Mama Get Your Hammer probably got the least airplay of all six singles. This was followed by another great instrumental, Smooth Sailin', Parts 1 & 2, which sold a fair amount. But the young musicians were already tiring of the hard road life and drummer David Butler chose to settle down and get steady work. Joe Pyatt, the real leader of the group, joined Dave "Baby" Cortez's combo as sax man in 1962, while Chico Green went on to work with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.

Bobby Peterson himself recorded two further singles under his own name for Atlantic and Centaur, and returned to the rounds of Chester's clubs. In the 1980s he was playing in a funky aggregation called Self-Destruct.

Jamo Thomas came to Chicago during the early '60s and cut his first single Stop the Baby for the Conlo label, produced by Jerry Butler. He moved to the Sound Stage 7 label in 1965, which led to the recording of Bahama Mama in Memphis, which became a hit. In 1966, he met Eddie Thomas, Butler's former driver and now an executive with ABC-Paramount, who was starting to cut records for his own Thomas label.

In 1966, Jamo Thomas recorded I Spy For the FBI. It was recorded a couple of months after Luther Ingrams & The G-Men had recorded the original version of the song for Smash Records, but it was Jamo's version that had more success, reaching No.98 on the pop chart. Luther Ingrams has said that he believed there had been some sort of a deal between Jamo and the Impressions concerning the record, perhaps something to do with its double release on two separate labels. Jamo's version first came out on St. Lawrence Records in Chicago, before it was released on the Curtom subsidiary label Thomas. Jamo himself was based in Chicago. He worked with Monk Higgins Burgess Gardner and a host of Chicago people associated with Craig-Vee Productions, on St. Lawrence, Satellite, Sack and Thomas Records, Chess and Decca, before moving to Philadelphia, where he recorded for the Perception label, including Shake What You Brought With You and You Just Ain't Ready. Later, Jamo recorded for MCA and Nassau Records.

Jamo stopped recording his own material after 1976, but in 1979, he provided the introduction to Scream by Graham Central Station on the Star Walk album (Warner Bros.). In the 1980s he turned to gospel music and worked as an arranger for Ella Washington.

You can buy a great CD complilation of Chess hits, called Chess Club Rhythm & Soul, including Must I Holler, at

A CD of the Bobby Petersen Quartet was released (Relic CD 7138) in 1999 under the title "Irresistible You - Piano Rock".

Information for this article was gathered from unnamed internet sources, from message board comments by Heikki Suosalo of Soul Express magazine, and Bruce Eder of All Music Guide.