Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Popzine adventures

Adventures in teen music journalism

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Flashback to Oasis' show in Indy in the '90s - COURTESY OF POPZINE
  • Courtesy of Popzine
  • Flashback to Oasis' show in Indy in the '90s

I realized something about myself this weekend while visiting the Yats on Mass. Ave. While waiting in line for my rice and beans, I noticed a poster for an upcoming concert by the '90s British rock band Bush.

Honestly, I had no idea Bush were still around. Granted it's not something I've spent anytime thinking about, as I've always disliked the band. But the observation sucked me into a vortex of nostalgia that brought forth an epiphany: All the fundamental knowledge I have of music journalism was acquired from my sister Lisa.

Like I said, I was never a fan of Bush. They were one of dozens of dull "grunge" acts that the big record labels were pushing in the wake of Kurt Cobain's suicide. Unfortunately, most of Nirvana's imitators lacked that group's unique ability to meld agony and irreverence into irresistibly catchy pop hooks.

I did see the group once, though. I didn't see them perform – but I did see Bush in Indianapolis, on March 18, 1995 in the lobby of the Tyndall Armory in Downtown Indy. The occasion was a now-notorious concert from Brit pop icons Oasis. Bush played Indianapolis the night before at – of all places — Union Station, and they stuck around an extra day to catch Oasis' gig.

Oasis were touring on their 1994 debut LP Definitely Maybe. The album was a massive hit in the UK, propelling the band to the status of a national phenomenon back home. But Oasis were struggling to find a similar breakthrough in the States and that frustration seemed to be taking its toll. Oasis were in a dour mood when they hit the makeshift stage at Tyndall Armory that night. And when a pair of glasses were flung towards singer Liam Gallagher during the fourth song of their set, the band abruptly left the stage and immediately canceled the concert.

As the the rather small crowd of angry and confused attendees exited the Armory, someone happened to notice the members of Bush in attendance. A crowd of fans gathered around the band for autographs and photos. Bush's presence in the audience that night generated more enthusiasm from the crowd than Oasis' appearance onstage. 

This concert is remembered by most Indy music fans for its abrupt and unusual ending. But the show is lodged in my memory for a very different reasons: it was my first personal encounter with the art of music journalism.

My sister must have been around 16 years old when she and her friend Heather decided they were going to launch their own zine. While most of their local zine-making peers in Indy were documenting the city's skateboard culture or all-ages punk scene. Lisa and Heather decided to write about the UK's nascent but evolving Brit pop movement. They titled their new publication Popzine, and they approached their project with great ambition. Instead of relying merely on record or show reviews for content, they conspired to interview the artists they'd been idolizing from afar.
But how would a pair of teenage kids from the Indiana suburbs gain access to Europe's biggest music stars?

Flashback to Oasis' show in Indy in the '90s - COURTESY OF POPZINE
  • Courtesy of Popzine
  • Flashback to Oasis' show in Indy in the '90s
I jokingly suggested they should call up their favorite UK band's label and scam their way into an interview. "Tell them you write about music for the local university's paper. There's no way they'll check your credentials," I offered. While this strategy would be extremely foolish in the Internet age, where fact-checking requires only a few simple keystrokes on Google, it worked surprisingly well in the mid '90s.
Lisa and Heather had easily set up an interview with Oasis at their Downtown Indy hotel prior to the Tyndall Armory gig. I accompanied them to the interview that day, and I also helped them brainstorm for interview questions. I remember being filled with anxiety as Lisa and Heather made their way into the hotel's restaurant to meet with founding Oasis members "Bonehead" Arthurs and "Guigsy" McGuigan. But the whole thing went off without a hitch.

After the aborted concert, we even circled back to the hotel for further commentary on the cancelation. The band was apologetic, noting they'd had a rough time in Indy. The night before the gig, singer Liam Gallagher had a gun pulled on him during a late night walk around the city. They offered to put everyone in our small entourage on the guest list for their next show at The Vic in Chicago, which sent us all home with a smile.

Lisa and Heather produced several more issues of Popzine before calling it quits, publishing interviews with UK superstars Blur and American indie acts like Medicine and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. I'd occasionally pitch in with some questions, or help out in whatever way I could. But, mostly, I just admired the audacity and ingenuity of their effort.

It's been many years since I thought about Lisa and Heather's Popzine, but as I look back at this time it's become undeniably apparent to me that so much of what I now do as a radio host and writer was inspired by watching my sister's teenage adventures in music journalism.

Though I won't be in attendance for Bush's concert this Tuesday at the Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn at White River State Park, I do appreciate them for giving me this opportunity to reflect.
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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Eric Salazar and Classical Music Indy show off the beauty of wind instruments

Classical music Indy brings chamber music to unconventional spaces

Posted By on Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 8:55 AM

  • Submitted Photo
  • Eric Salazar

Composer and clarinetist Eric Salazar has become a wonderful force for good within the local music scene. As a musician, Salazar is a dynamic and creative performer who composes music pairing his virtuoso clarinet skills against washes of electronic sound and his work with Classical Music Indy brings chamber music to unconventional venues and underserved communities.

Experience his work as community engagement coordinator with CMI live every first Tuesday at the Chatterbox for Classical Revolution and every Fourth Tuesday at the Melody Inn for Tuesday Mashup. 

NUVO: Before we jump into your work as a performer and composer, can you tell our readers about Classical Music Indy and what you're doing for the organization? 

Eric Salazar: Classical Music Indy is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing classical music to the community. We have two facets of what we do, we have on-air radio programming and we also have community programs which is primarily where I work. As the community engagement coordinator, I'm responsible for bringing classical music to people who wouldn't normally get to hear it and also bringing the music to nontraditional locations.

RELATED: Samuel Rothstein, the ISO's clarinet blogger

We've got three or four primary programs; one of those is our Senior Series. We have senior musicians play for seniors at assisted living centers. We also have After School Indy, which is our educational outreach program. One of my favorite programs is what we call Random Acts of Music. This is where we essentially pop-up in public locations and perform live classical music. The purpose of that program is to normalize classic music and make it more of a daily part of life. 

NUVO: In addition to your work at CMI, you're also an incredibly talented composer and performer on the clarinet. I'm curious what attracted you to the clarinet as a young person.  

Salazar: Oh yes, I love talking about that! The simplest answer is that I just liked the sound of the clarinet. I discovered the sound of the clarinet through my favorite cartoon as a kid, which was Tom & Jerry. So Tom & Jerry, and all the Looney Tunes used a lot of classical music. Tom & Jerry always had some jazz clarinet and classical clarinet and I just remember listening to it and thinking, "Man, I want to do that!" In sixth grade you get to choose a band instrument and I already knew: clarinet, that's what its going to be.

  • Submitted Photo
  • Eric Salazar
NUVO: The clarinet once held a very important position in American popular music, from New Orleans jazz and Dixieland performers like Sidney Bechet and Johnny Dodds, to Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw and all the big band music of the '30s and '40s. But after the big band era, the clarinet started fading from American popular music landscape. I'm curious what your thoughts are on the clarinet's role in contemporary music

Salazar: It's true that a lot of wind instruments have been on the decline since electronic instruments were invented. With one guitar and a bunch of foot pedals, the spectrum of sounds you can create is so versatile. That sort of made the acoustic instruments decline a bit. But the beauty of the acoustic instruments is that they rely on the player to produce a refined sounds, and that's unique to every player.
Actually the clarinet in Turkey is a huge pop instrument. The Turkish style of clarinet uses a lot of slides and glissandos and sounds much more like the human voice than the Western tradition of clarinet. The clarinet has always had a presence in orchestras since Mozart's time and people are still writing music for it. Contemporary classical music uses a lot of clarinet.

There's also a specific bass clarinetist named Michael Lowenstern who is one of my inspirations. He listened to a lot of funk when he was growing up, so he composes music that uses loop pedals and all sorts electronic stuff.

NUVO: You mentioned the spectrum of sounds produced by an electric guitar with pedals, I recently had a chance to see you perform and one of the things that impressed me most was the spectrum of sounds you pulled out of the clarinet. At one moment you were waling like Benny Goodman, then you played a piece where the clarinet sounded like a Japanese shakuhachi flute, and then you played a piece that evoked the sound of the Indian oboe known as the shehnai. How are you getting all those sounds out of a clarinet? I've never seen someone playing a clarinet take the the instrument in so many directions.

Salazar: Part of it has to do with my personality. I get bored easily so I'm always trying a bunch of different things. I'm also a bit of a chameleon, I am whoever I need to be when I'm in a social group. The beauty of that aspect of my personality is that it allows me to wear different hats and produce different colors when I compose music. I like having as many points of access as I can for someone who is unfamiliar with the clarinet.
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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Brexit, Queen and Indy's immigrant communities

What is "Britishness" anyway?

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2016 at 8:00 AM

  • Photo by Carl Lender via Wikimedia Commons
  • Freddie Mercury in New Haven, CT at a WPLR Show.

Last week the citizens of Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. I'll leave it to the pundits to debate the economic and political merits of this decision, but there is a cultural aspect of this split I feel compelled to address.

As I absorbed the reams of press coverage devoted to Brexit, there was one particular point of concern I heard repeatedly in interviews with numerous British citizens: A shared concern that the immigration policies of the EU were contributing to an erosion of the "Britishness" of British culture.

It's a concern I've heard echoed in here in Indiana, too. Over the last couple decades the state has experienced a surge in Latin-American immigration, and there's a deep fear among some Hoosiers that the newly arrived immigrant's inability or refusal to immediately assimilate to our local culture will somehow lead to the destruction of traditional American values.

This is an argument that I personally find ridiculous. And it's an argument that's been proven wrong many times over successive periods of migration occurring throughout the history of the United States.

And we only need to look back 100 years or so in our own city's history for proof. 

During the early 1900s, Indianapolis received a wave of immigrants from Central European countries like Slovenia, Hungary and Poland. They established themselves in large numbers within the Westside neighborhood of Haughville. They were able to create a livable atmosphere for themselves inside the confines of Haughville, but life outside the neighborhood could be hostile.

According to eye-witness stories collected by Shari Finnell for a May 9, 1999 Indianapolis Star article titled "The Way We Lived" European immigrants during the 1920s were taunted and even experienced violence for speaking in their native tongues outside of Haughville.

We might be tempted to look back and laugh at the ignorance of our Hoosier antecedents if we weren't seeing the similar xenophobic hostilities being applied to a new generation of immigrants as they work to build peaceful lives here in Indianapolis.

But I want to return to Great Britain, and Brexit supporters' concerns over the preservation of "Britishness.”

When I was a kid, there was no band bigger than Queen. Though I grew up long after the group's heyday, Queen were so enormously popular they cast an enormous shadow over music that continues to this day. In fact, according to a 2014 BBC report Queen's Greatest Hits album is the best selling record in UK history, topping even the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

While growing up, nothing on Earth seemed more British to me than the music of Queen. So I was a bit surprised when as an adult I learned that Queen's frontman Freddie Mercury was actually named Farrokh Bulsara. Mercury was born in the East African territory of Zanzibar in 1946. Mercury's family were Parsees, followers of the ancient Iranian prophet Zoroaster. Mercury was raised largely in Mumbai, India where he attended boarding school. And after graduating Mercury returned to Zanzibar, but political instability in the region prompted the family's migration to London in 1964. 

Six years later Mercury would form Queen, and the rest, of course, is history. 
I've covered Indiana's extraordinary immigrant music scene at length during my time at NUVO, and I can say without a doubt my life has been incalculably enriched by the experiences and friendships I've received within Indy's immigrant community.

Brexit has given citizens of the United States a chance to pause and reflect on the potential ramifications of the choices facing us this November. We can obsess over unfounded fears of immigrant culture corrupting our values, or we can focus on the immediate and tangible good immigrants bring to our community. 

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Azieb Abraha's minimal beats

Her new self-titled is out now.

Posted By on Tue, Jun 21, 2016 at 2:31 PM


Azieb Abraha is reaching toward a higher level of consciousness. That's evident in her soulful, cosmically attuned music and even in conversation.

As a vocalist Azieb volleys swiftly between conventional singing, spoken word and rap, but the beats Azieb creates eschew typical pop structures, instead following an internal musical logic.
That might sound like a heady concoction, but the music on Azieb is also eminently approachable. Azieb name-checks artists like Grimes, M.I.A., Bjork, Radiohead and Santigold as influential touchstones — and like those artists, Azieb succeeds in creating music that is simultaneously expansive, challenging and appealing.

I chatted with Azieb after an Indianapolis appearance celebrating her new self-titled album Azieb.

NUVO: You're currently living in Chicago, but you have a deep connection to Indy. Tell us about that connection.

Azieb: I came to Indianapolis to work a full time job after college. I found so much love in the Indy music scene that it motivated me to completely immerse myself in music.

NUVO: Prior to finding that inspiration in Indianapolis, what was your music-making activity like?

Azieb: I started out playing the piano. I've played the piano for about 10 years now. When I was 15 I started making beats in Fruity Loops. I really got tired of listening to what was on the radio and that's why I started making music. I made my own mixes and I'd listen to them in the car. After that I went to college at Indiana State in Terre Haute and I started expressing myself at open mics. I was doing spoken word, and I was making my beats separately. But when I put those two together I started rapping and that's kind of what I've developed into now. And it just keeps going forward. I'm starting to branch out into more instrumentation and arrangements, and I'm playing piano live.

NUVO: Monday, June 20 is World Refugee Day. We're currently facing the worst global refugee crisis since World War II, so I feel like this is a critically important subject to address. Last week you performed for a World Refugee Day event at Daley Plaza in Chicago. I wanted to ask if you'd mind commenting on your personal connection with this issue.

Azieb: [The connection is] really through my family. They're the ones who went through it on an eye-to-eye basis on ground level. I'm a first generation citizen of the United States, I was the first in my family to be born here after they moved from Ethiopia.
I've heard a lot of stories from my family about what they've been through, and I've read a lot too. But reading about it, or hearing it from someone's perspective is completely different from experiencing it. I don't really want to go into any details about their experience — it gets pretty deep. But I feel for that, and I feel for refugees trying to get placement. So that's why I decided to perform live for that event and do whatever I can to spread positive energy to anyone I can, including refugees. 

NUVO: Azieb, you have a new self-titled LP out. One of the elements of your sound that draws me in is the experimental, free-form nature of your lyrics and beats. Do you think those terms provide a fair assessment of your work?

Azieb: Yeah, you hit it on the head! That makes a lot of sense. I always try to give my best on every track and I always try to push myself. On this album the main thing I was trying to do was to be clear on every message. That's why the beats are so minimal compared to my last album, Products We Love, which had a lot of layers. This album was more like, "listen to what I have to say" over some chill beats.

Experimental? Mm-hmm. I do not really like structure and I tend to rebel against it in a way. When I approach beats it's whatever comes to mind. The universe opens up, I'll hear a melody and lay that down. I'll add some drums and then all of a sudden the words will come. It just flows all together and it's all natural. 

NUVO: Are there specific themes you address in your lyrics, or are they all over the place?

Azieb: I definitely have specific themes. I like to open people's minds and I think if people took more time to listen they would understand themselves and others better. I myself am learning to listen, which is what this album is kind of about. I'm kind of talking to myself on a lot of tracks. It's like a note to me: remember to listen to others, remember to stay calm, and remember to walk away in certain situations. 

That's what "On the Run" is about, the conflict of being yourself in public with no regrets. Sometimes I vent on a track and sometimes they're more like stories. "Uncivilized" is more of a story.

I purposely performed "Uncivilized" at World Refugee Day because it's about how people are perceived coming from a so-called "third world" country, or being uncivilized. Everyone to me should be treated equally. We all have the same potential. That's what I believe and that's what the song speaks on in a more detailed fashion.

NUVO: Finally when can people in Indy catch you live again?

Azieb: I think the next time I'll be back in Indy is for Chreece. Oreo Jones just asked me to play, so I'll see you guys at Chreece.
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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Guitar Pete's grave

How do we honor our blues legends?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Last summer I spent a large amount of my free time traveling across the city visiting the grave sites of important local jazz and blues musicians. Sadly, for many of our city's esteemed music greats a small stone grave marker is the only physical evidence of their existence in Indianapolis.

I spent one particular summer afternoon scouring Section 99 of Crown Hill cemetery in a search for the grave of the legendary Indianapolis blues player Guitar Pete Franklin. I must've spent a couple hours zig-zagging through the area reading and rereading every headstone multiple times before finally giving up.

A few weeks ago I renewed my search for Guitar Pete Franklin's grave, but this time I decided to employ a more strategic method. So I called up the Crown Hill switchboard for guidance.

RELATED: Kyle visits more graves 

"Hi, I'm looking for information on where the grave of Edward Lamonte Franklin is located,” I said. “If it helps, he was born on January 16 of 1928 and he passed on July 31 of 1975. And, oh yeah, he might be listed under the name Guitar Pete. He recorded some really important records under that name."

I waited eagerly for the operator's response while I listened to her fingers hammering the information into a keyboard. "Section 99. Lot 4728," she replied. It was the same information I'd found online last summer. I explained to her I'd previously spent several hours searching that area to no avail. After another audible flurry of keystrokes she returned with a definitive answer to my mystery:

"No grave marker."

It struck me as totally unacceptable that an artist like Franklin with such a legacy would be allowed to remain in an unmarked grave for 40-plus years. But in Indianapolis that sort of neglect and disrespect for musicians, particularly Black musicians, is not abnormal.

Guitar Pete Franklin was not your average local musician. In a career that stretched through four decades, Guitar Pete recorded on some of the biggest labels in music, alongside some of the greatest names in the blues genre. 

In contrast to fellow Hoosier blues legends like Yank Rachell, Scrapper Blackwell, and Leroy Carr - who all migrated here from the South, Franklin was born and raised in Indianapolis. Franklin's exposure to blues music came at an early age when pianist Leroy Carr was a boarder at Franklin's childhood home just prior to his untimely death in 1935. Franklin acquired significant skills on the family piano before taking up the guitar at age 11.

As a young man he learned what would become his primary instrument from Indy blues guitar master Scrapper Blackwell. Franklin's passion for music was so deep, he dropped out Crispus Attucks to devote himself full time to playing. But his aspirations for blues stardom were briefly put on hold during a two-year stint with the army from 1945-1947.

Franklin's recording career began in Chicago in a fantastic session for the Opera Records label with St. Louis Jimmy and Roosevelt Sykes. Franklin's own debut as a leader came in 1949 on RCA Records. Joined by Tampa Red on piano, Franklin recorded four tunes for RCA on January 26 of 1949: "Casey Brown Blues,” "Down Behind The Rise," "Mr. Charley," and "Naptown Blues,” which remains unissued to this day.

Over the next few years Franklin would record a series of classic discs as a sideman for blues greats like Jazz Gillum, Sunnlyland Slim and John Brim. But Franklin wouldn't see another solo release until 1962 when the Indy-based folklorist Art Rosenbaum tracked Franklin down to cut an LP for  jazz label Prestige Records' Bluesville imprint.

The resulting work, Guitar Pete's Blues was recorded in Indianapolis on July 12 of 1961. The album is widely considered a blues classic and stands as the most enduring example of Franklin's unique artistry.

"A blues singer is a weird son of a bitch," Franklin once said in an interview for the the summer 1972 edition of Living Blues magazine. I'd guess Franklin was referring to the intense pathos the art draws out of performers. Blues musicians are tasked with exploring some of the most extreme conditions of the human psyche, and Franklin rises to that challenge on Guitar Pete's Blues. While Franklin shines as a guitarist, pianist and vocalist on the LP, it's his interpretation of the material, with themes ranging from depression, to drug abuse, to violence that remains the most compelling element of the work for me.

Guitar Pete's Blues
is the only solo LP release in Franklin's discography. While Franklin was presented with other chances to record and perform in the aftermath of Guitar Pete's Blues he was unable to parlay those opportunities into any meaningful advancement for his career. Franklin remained in Indianapolis until his hard-living ways contributed to his early death from diabetes at age 47.

"The public should recognize the blues as an art, instead of looking down at it as something that comes out of the slums or the cotton fields," Franklin lamented in an interview for the liner notes of Guitar Pete's Blues.

While Franklin's artistry has been recognized by music fans around the world, his work is largely unknown here in Indianapolis where his eternal resting place lacks even the most simple marker noting evidence of his existence. It's a tragic ending that should give any music fan the blues.
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Monday, June 6, 2016

Remembering Blottboyy

Celebrating a life with color

Posted By on Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 12:04 PM

  • Submitted Photo
  • Chris Easton

On May 30, Indianapolis lost a talented and visionary young artist.

Christopher Easton was a DJ and electronic music producer creating work under the name BlottBoyy. In a short period of time Easton established himself as a significant force within the Indianapolis underground music scene.

Easton began making waves as a musician while still a student at North Central High School before graduating in 2015. At a time when most young artists are blindly grasping for a direction or identity in their work, Easton was busy refining his surprisingly mature artistic voice. As a fan of Easton's productions and DJ sets, I felt his work held a vast potential and Easton seemed to be poised on the brink of finding a larger national or international audience for his art.

Sadly, all that promise was cruelly wiped away last weekend during a visit to White Rock Park in Shelby County. His body was found by a scuba diver 25-feet deep in the park's limestone quarry.

Easton was just 20 years old. 

But he accomplished so much during his short life. Blottboy toured nationally with his friend and collaborator Ejaaz. He also left behind a handful of recordings featuring his compelling electronic music compositions. I greatly admired the music Easton produced as BlottBoyy. While his compositions often veered toward the abstract and experimental, Easton never lost touch with the soul and rhythm of dance music.

I also had great respect for Easton as a DJ. I recently commented to a colleague that I seldom listen to young DJs, as most haven't had the time to accumulate the expansive knowledge of music required to craft mixes with artistic depth. Easton was an exception though. I'd recently caught a couple different BlottBoyy DJ sets at Pattern Magazine and Joyful Noise Recordings events. On both occasions Easton's work behind the mixer was intriguing, filled with atmospherically diverse tracks that split the difference between haunting ambient expression and abrasive electro-noise.

Fortunately Easton preserved several of his mixes on his BlottBoyyy Soundcloud page. On that same page you'll also find a few of his original compositions, which range from more blatantly experimental pieces like "E L E" and "My Belief Is Ours,” both from 2014, to more recent tracks including "Out the Cage" and "Rave" which successfully reach for a big room/festival EDM sound.

In memory of Easton's life and work, I'd like to end this piece with a few words on my favorite BlottBoyy track. "Life With Color" was commissioned by the Museum of Psychphonics in Fountain Square. It's a site-specific composition referencing Elvis Presley's famous last performance at Indy's Market Square Arena. Clocking in at 11 minutes in length, "Life With Color" resonates with a grand, almost epic feel.

Easton spends several minutes weaving a swelling block of ambient symphonic strings over a light house rhythm, until midway through the track when the droning strings are overtaken by a chirping chorus of angelic voices and a full-on jacking house beat. After reaching a peak energy level the track collapses into itself, receding back to the calm atmospherics of the introduction. 

"Life With Color" is a beautiful creation, certainly Easton's most complex and artistically ambitious recording. "Life With Color" will likely stand as the magnum opus of Easton's all too-brief career.

The artist statement Easton wrote for the work provides some insight into his character and artistic vision. I'd like to share an excerpt.

"My song 'Life With Color' is a beautiful journey that shows happiness in life. I wanted to create a song that people can escape to, and for just one second believe that they are in their fantasy. Everywhere around the world people love to dance to feel something which shows love and happiness… 'Life with Color' was inspired by the legendary singer Elvis Presley. Elvis was more then just a rock star on stage; he was also a leader to the world that touched hearts. The memories of Elvis Presley forever live in us through his music."

Chris Easton will continue to live on through all the lives his music touched, including my own.
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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Treasuring Tyler's Eastern Man Alone

Embracing the radical free jazz sound

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 6:00 AM


On January 2 of 1967, saxophonist Charles Tyler entered the Feature’s recording studio in Indianapolis to cut an LP titled Eastern Man Alone for the groundbreaking experimental music label ESP-Disk.

It was Tyler's second record as a bandleader, and he was joined on the session by a group featuring Indianapolis jazz great David Baker, who'd arranged a scholarship for Tyler to study in his fledgling jazz studies program at IU.

The music Tyler and his ensemble laid down in the studio that day was unlike anything else happening in the Indianapolis scene. As a saxophonist, Tyler specialized in unleashing roaring torrents of free-form melodic improvisation.Eastern Man Alone was quite possibly the first major exploration of avant-garde music in Indianapolis, and it remains one of the most significant.

RELATED: Remembering David Baker 

Eastern Man Alone looms large in my LP collection. Growing up in the bland and rigidly conservative cultural landscape of suburban Indianapolis in the 1990s, I was desperate to find some evidence of a defiant creative spirit in my hometown. My first listen to Eastern Man Alone provided that. Tyler's work shattered all restrictive conventional perceptions of Hoosier artistic expression, and I loved it. 

Tyler's Eastern Man Alone has acquired an enthusiastic cult audience around the world. On his website Head Heritage, the British new wave rocker Julian Cope heaps praise on the album, writing that Eastern Man Alone, "should have been called The Psychedelic Sounds Of Charles Tyler because that's just what it is, high-energy trip music that will space you right out." In a 2010 Jazz Times magazine review of the LP, writer Lyn Horton waxed that Tyler's "music is seminal, even more so it seems than either John Coltrane’s and Ornette Coleman’s was, because it is downright raw."

While Eastern Man Alone remains a significant milestone within the context of Indianapolis music, it was just one small step in the grand musical journey of Charles Tyler.

Tyler was born in Cadiz, Kentucky in 1941, but largely grew up in Indianapolis. Tyler attended Crispus Attucks, where he studied under the great Attucks' bandleader Russell Brown and called Naptown jazz greats like James Spaulding and "Killer" Ray Appleton classmates.

His time at Attucks provided the strong musical foundation he'd build his career on, but it was a summer trip visiting a Midwest relative that led Tyler to the pathway of avant-garde expression he'd follow for the remainder of his life. During a trip to Cleveland at age 14, Tyler had a chance encounter with saxophonist Albert Ayler, a titanic figure in the world of free jazz. After graduating Attucks and completing a brief stint in the army, Tyler returned to Cleveland to join Ayler's revolutionary jazz ensemble.

In 1965, Tyler recorded two important LPs with Ayler, Bells and Spirits Rejoice on ESP-Disk. These recordings brought his work to an international audience and also earned him an opportunity to record with ESP as a leader. Tyler's debut LP Charles Tyler Ensemble was recorded in NYC in 1966, and the follow-up Eastern Man Alone was recorded the following year while Tyler was studying at IU. 

Tyler's time at IU would mark his last period of residency in Indiana. Tyler would spend the rest of his life working in geographical regions more sympathetic to his radical musical vision, bouncing from California to New York and eventually landing in Europe.

In total, Tyler released a dozen highly regarded solo LPs before his death from heart failure in 1992. All of Tyler's LPs are worth hearing, but I'd particularly recommend 1975's Live in Europe released on Tyler's own Abka label. Fronting an incredible group, featuring the brilliant Steve Reid on drums and Melvin Smith's screaming guitar, Live in Europe is one of the most aggressive and hard-hitting jazz albums ever recorded.

The sound Tyler achieved on Live in Europe anticipated the throbbing noise of New York "no wave" bands like DNA and James Chance several years before that scene materialized. In addition to his solo work, Tyler also recorded as a sideman on several important LPs by the extraordinary jazz violinist Billy Bang, as well as touring with the beloved avant-garde big band maestro Sun Ra.

Despite has achievements, in Indianapolis Charles Tyler remains largely unknown. His name is omitted from almost every major treatise I've read on Indiana jazz history, including David Williams' exhaustive and otherwise essential 2014 book Indianapolis Jazz. Perhaps Tyler's radical free jazz sound was too abrasive for Hoosier ears. And it seems that's still the case today, 50 years after his debut recording was released.
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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bashiri Asad's Naptown sound

Talking Naptown sound with the soul singer

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2016 at 8:00 AM

  • Submitted Photo
  • Bashiri Asad

Bashiri Asad is one of the hardest working talents on the Indianapolis soul scene, performing and recording at a steady pace while raising the banner for Indiana soul music here at home and beyond. Asad brings a high level of quality to all his musical endeavors, so it's always worth taking time to check out his latest project. Asad's newest release is an EP titled Proximity.

Asad will perform a tribute to Al Green at the Jazz Kitchen on June 17; play Castelton Grill on Father's Day Weekend, headline Taste of Indy on July 2; and play a songwriter's showcase at the Hi-Fi on July 7.

NUVO: I think of you as an artist whose work is deeply influenced by the pioneers and legends of soul music. I think that characteristic is evident in your overall sound, but certainly also in the live tribute shows you've done at the Jazz Kitchen celebrating artists like Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers.

Bashiri Asad: I believe as a soul singer and songwriter we have to be first and foremost the soundtrack for the times that we live in. My favorite artists were able to do that, and those who are still alive continue to do that today. People like Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Nina Simone, Oscar Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Leon Ware and Raphael Saadiq. All these artists were able to contribute to the times they lived in and create a great soundtrack for those times. My goal is to be able to do that.

RELATED: Bashiri Asad's tribute to Gil Scott-Heron 

NUVO: How do you translate that classic soul vibe into a sound that contemporary audiences can connect with?

Asad: I don't worry so much about keeping up, or arranging things in a way so that a certain demographic will listen to it. My goal is to make music that everyone will want to listen to. I'm hoping that it's different from the norm. I can only make music the way I know how, and if I did it any other way it wouldn't be genuine. I can only speak from the experiences I've had and the things I've seen. I want to pull people to where I am, to see the things I see, and hear the things I hear.

NUVO: Whenever I talk with you Bashiri, you're always repping Indianapolis music and musicians. I'm curious if you were influenced by the historic of legacy of Indianapolis jazz and soul music when you were first cutting your teeth as a young musician?

Asad: I knew Indianapolis was big, and still is big in regard to jazz. Lots of the greats have come from here, and we have great musicians here in the city today: Rob Dixon, Jared Thompson, The Tucker Brothers, Brandon Meeks and Charlie Ballantine. I glean from them, and the way they take chances on themselves and bet on themselves and make music that represents the movement and the city.

They motivate me. It's an exciting time to be a musician here in Indianapolis with regard to creativity. It causes you to harken back to those times when the Avenue was jumping with J.J. Johnson and Freddie Hubbard.  We want to make our mark, and we make our mark by making our music. 

NUVO: I recently saw Clint Breeze and the Groove perform, a band that includes a few of the musicians you just mentioned. When I was watching their performance it occurred to me that there's a whole generation of musicians here like you and Rob Dixon and Native Sun and many others who are reinventing and redefining that classic Naptown soul/jazz sound. Are you and this crew of musicians forging a new Indianapolis sound?

Asad: We are. I have to thank my man Bobby Young, who is frontman for Native Sun. He'd been talking about this for years. "Naptown's got its own sound", that was a chorus to one of the songs on their first album Step Into The Light.

Naptown does have its own sound. We're creating a lane of our own and it's not necessarily genre-specific. There's a meld in genres, whether it be jazz, funk, blues, hip-hop or soul music. You can put all those into a vat and stir and you have the Naptown sound.

All those people I mentioned, we're all cool with each other. We work together and do shows together. We all have the same goal to make great music and put this city on the map for great music. And we're starting to do that along with MCs like Oreo Jones and the Naptown rock scene. 

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Oreo Jones drops Cash for Gold

Posted By on Wed, May 11, 2016 at 11:00 AM

Cash for Gold album art
  • Cash for Gold album art

Oreo Jones' 2012 LP Betty established the rapper as a force in Indianapolis music, and earned the emcee positive notices outside the Hoosier state. In the wake of Betty's release, many in the Indy music scene laid great hope and expectation at the emcee's feet. In the four year's that have passed since, it's my assessment that Jones ably met and surpassed all the artistic promise reflected in Betty.

To some, four years may seem like a significant gap between albums for a young artist working hard to breakthrough. "It was that long ago?" Jones laughs when I remind him of Betty's issue date. But Jones has hardly been standing still. During those intermediary years he's toured diligently, co-founded local super-group White Moms, recorded collaborations with David "Moose" Adamson, and continued to refine and improve his web series Let's Do Lunch

But perhaps most importantly, Jones has become a catalyst for, if not the face of, an important music scene in this city in Fountain Square that has merged various strains of rap music with indie rock and more experimental forms.

RELATED: Our 2012 Oreo Jones cover

Like many neighborhoods in the midst of gentrification, Fountain Square is a place of contrasts. Decades old mom-and-pop hardware stores share street space with avant-garde galleries. Freshly minted art school students move into age-worn city blocks filled with homes that have provided shelter for generations of conservative working class families.

In recent decades Fountain Square has felt the harsh and unforgiving crush of poverty. The sharp bloodletting of American manufacturing jobs wreaked havoc on blue collar areas like Fountain Square, where neighborhood blocks are dotted with abandoned, boarded-up homes lost to foreclosure and other financial disasters. It'a a tragic turn of circumstances that leads to high crime rates and low property values, opening space for hordes of starving artists and real estate speculators to move in.

In the center of this culture clash lies the soul of Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold, out Friday on vinyl, tape and digital platforms. Whether intuitively or overtly, Jones created a soundtrack for the wide spectrum of residents that make their homes in struggling neighborhoods like Fountain Square. There are art rap jams on Cash For Gold that will provide background fodder for the next GPC gallery opening, and lyrically heavy tracks that will animate long nights for a struggling father hoping to sell enough dime bags to buy a box of diapers and formula for his newborn.

One of the most striking tracks on Cash For Gold is "Mud." Jones calls it his "social justice record," adding that he wrote the lyrics "last summer when the crime rate was running rampant, especially killings and shootings." "Mud" weaves together a pair of vignettes that speak to the youngest victims of inner-city violence, and for me evokes thoughts of 15-year-old Andre Green killed last summer by IPD officers.

Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold album release party
Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold album release party Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold album release party Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold album release party Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold album release party Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold album release party Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold album release party Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold album release party Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold album release party

Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold album release party

Action Jackson, Metavari, Hoops, Showyosuck all joined the bill for Oreo Jones' Cash For Gold album release party at Pioneer in Fountain Square.

By Brian Weiss

Click to View 13 slides

Musically this is perhaps the most traditional hip-hop track on the record, but lyrically "Mud" marks a noticeable change of direction for Jones who seemed surprised by the song's subject matter himself. "I don't know if it's just me getting older, but I felt like it was important to tell a story about people affected by these shootings here in the city," Jones says.

The DMA-produced "Sufficient Funds" provides another strong moment. Adamson always impresses me as one of Indiana's musical visionaries, putting his warped stamp on every genre of music he touches, in this case an ominous, grinding hip-hop beat. While "Sufficient Funds" travels well-worn hip-hop territory, the story of a street hustler trying to come up, the inspired verses from Jones and his Ghost Gun Summer colleague Sirius Blvck enliven the set piece. "Sufficient Funds" succeeds in recreating the sort of eerie crime sagas perfected by Golden Age artists like Mobb Deep, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah. "When I wrote "Sufficient Funds" I was super-duper broke" Jones tells me, Adding the song is about, "just being able to create and live without the looming thought of money over your head."

I don't want to give the impression that Cash For Gold is filled with depressing tales of struggle and poverty. Jones also delivers the fun-filled, reference-laced escapist fantasies that fueled his Black Fabio project with Action Jackson. "Coogi Sweater" is a highlight, with the catchy repetitious chorus easily lodged in your head. The chillwave vibes on "Stevie Knicks House" will also please fans of Jones' larger-than-life-on-a-low-budget wordplay.

Somewhere in between the social justice tracks and party cuts lies "Caravaggio," featuring an unhinged guest spot from emcee Flaco. "Caravaggio" marks another of Cash For Gold's best moments. Having exhausted the potency of name-checking top shelf alcohol, luxury cars, and haute couture as symbols of privileged social rank, many outlier rappers have turned toward referencing the world of fine art for evidence of their big baller status. While on the surface "Caravaggio" appears to be fashioned in that mold, Jones tells me he has a deeper emotional connection with the master painter's work: "He's my favorite artist. Teddy Panzer gave me the beat and it just screamed Enlightenment Period. It was dark, and Caravaggio's paintings are super dark."

Flaco and Jones use the theme to make larger points about the art world. I ask Jones about the Flaco-led chorus "Black boy go to the IMA, let a Nigga sway."* "I feel like it's important for art to be accessible to everyone," Jones says. "I've been to galleries where I feel out of place. It's not always culturally diverse and it's kind of uncomfortable. You feel brushed aside and that's the reference with Flaco on the chorus."

And what exactly is Jones' overarching vision on Cash For Gold? The title itself provides a nod to that question, referencing those ubiquitous pawn shop signs that seem to blot every poor and working class inner city neighborhood. The signs entice residents to turn over their most valued treasures for that quick hit of cash they desperately need to scrape by one more week. But, here, Jones flips the script: "It's about finding wealth in love and memories. It's about being spiritually wealthy and finding riches in something besides money."

Jones has clearly found gold in the fertile Fountain Square music scene he's been mining over the last couple years. Cash For Gold shines brightly from the effort. It's a superb LP and a satisfying follow up to Betty, expanding on that album's best attributes while developing richer textural nuances both musically and lyrically. This record cements Jones' position as the most artistically ambitious rapper in Indy, and also establishes the emcee as an artist who has chosen not to ignore the the struggles besetting the impoverished residents of Indianapolis neighborhoods like Fountain Square.

Editor's note: This lyric has been clarified for accuracy.
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Monday, May 2, 2016

George Clinton talks Sun Ra, Kendrick, Prince, Jimi Hendrix and more

Space man cometh

Posted By on Mon, May 2, 2016 at 2:29 PM

At age 74, there's very little the living legend of funk George Clinton hasn't seen, done, or lived through in music. During the 1970s under the dual banners of Parliament and Funkadelic, Clinton and company cemented their position in music history by creating both apocalyptic, feedback-drenched, consciousness-expanding, psychedelic rock epics and unrelentingly funky, burning hot, disco dance floor R&B burners. Clinton's take on music and language laid the groundwork for the emergence of hip-hop and a myriad of other important contemporary musical genres.

But Clinton has never been content to rest upon his musical laurels. He continues to tour relentlessly and record important new work like his current single, the effortlessly grooving "Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You?" with Kendrick Lamar and Ice Cube.
Attending a P-Funk show is one of those must-do musical experiences, a rite of passage for every hardcore music head. If you've never been initiated into the world of P-Funk you'll have a gold opportunity to do so this Friday, May 6 at The Vogue. Clinton promised me the show will be "a three ring circus" that "everybody can enjoy,” adding that all attendees will dance so hard they'll need "to bring two booties."

NUVO: Mr. Clinton, if you don't mind I want to start off by asking you a few questions about the Mothership, the iconic flying saucer stage prop you created in 1976 for the P-Funk Earth Tour. According to a 2011 Washington Post article the original 1976 Mothership was sold for scrap during the early '80s. But a few years ago a reconstructed model of the Mothership was acquired for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

George Clinton: We had the Mothership remade for a tour in the late '90s and that's the one they have in the Smithsonian. But there's a smaller version right there in Indianapolis.

NUVO: That's exactly what I was leading into. The baby Mothership is on display now here in Indianapolis. Have you heard about this?

Clinton: I just heard about it. I heard they have it in some kind of museum?

NUVO: Yes, it's called the Museum of Psychphonics, in the Fountain Square neighborhood of Indianapolis.
It's my understudying that the baby Mothership was used in the '70s during the P-Funk Earth Tour to introduce the larger Mothership as it made its dramatic appearance onstage.

Clinton: Yeah, that's the one that flew over the crowd's heads in the coliseums. Then it would disappear and the big one would descend. They worked in conjunction. But I got scared about using the little one because it was flying over people's heads and I didn't want it to fall on anybody.

RELATED: Read all about the Museum of Psychphonics

NUVO: I understand there were also fireworks shooting out of the baby Mothership as it flew over the audience. It does seem like that could've been a huge liability for you if something went wrong.

Clinton: Right, it was a liability and I got paranoid so we stopped using it.

NUVO: How do you feel about seeing these stage props you conceptualized being enshrined in museums. In the U.S., it doesn't get more prestigious than the Smithsonian.

Clinton: [laughs] Right, I know! I was glad they did that. Those props are getting more important as a part of the history of the music because the music is getting so big now. You know, with all the people sampling it. It's becoming such a big thing. It's going to be like classical music.

NUVO: There's been a lot of scholarly analysis of your work in recent years. Some cultural commentators and academics are placing the Mothership era of P-Funk within the context of the concept of Afrofuturism. As I'm sure you know, the term Afrofutursim was coined in the 1990s to describe the work of artists like you, or Sun Ra who were creating art that looked toward the future while mixing themes of space and technology with traditional African or African American culture. Are you cool with your work being classified as Afrofuturist?

Clinton: Yeah, funk or R&B — that groove — they change the name every so often, but we continue to call it funk, and rock and roll is an extension of that. All of that came from a futurist standpoint. It came from an era when we were contemplating space travel. We created funk for outer space: myself, Jimi Hendrix, Sun Ra, David Bowie and Labelle. All of that was the beginning of the theatrical sci-fi.

NUVO: On the topic of Sun Ra, I remember reading a quote from you regarding Sun Ra in an interview with Option magazine in the early '90s. When asked about Sun Ra, you said "Sun Ra is out to lunch - the same place I eat at."

Clinton: Right, exactly. Me and Sun Ra and Jimi Hendrix we were eating at the same lunch counter. [laughs] 

NUVO: A lot of music journalists and music historians have speculated, or even assumed that you based a lot of your space-themed concepts on Sun Ra's work. For folks that don't know, Sun Ra was an incredible avant-garde jazz bandleader who claimed he was from the planet Saturn and he recorded over 100 albums of experimental music that consistently explored cosmic themes of space travel and Blackness. I'm curious if you were checking out Sun Ra during the '60s and '70s?

Clinton: I didn't really check Sun Ra out until the '90s. But I had heard of him and what I found out was that he had done doo-wop music too. He had been involved in R&B and doo-wop music early in his career. When I saw how much we were alike I went to see him when he came to Detroit. He was playing jazzy, sci-fi, R&B music. Sun Ra would play anything.

NUVO: Right! Sun Ra recorded some doo-wop records with the Cosmic Rays while he was based in Chicago during the 1950s. I'm glad you mentioned that because I wanted to ask about your connection to doo-wop. In your teenage years during the late 1950s you started The Parliaments as a doo-wop group in Plainfield, New Jersey. You even recorded some very rare 45 RPM doo-wop singles like "You Make Me Wanna Cry" and "Poor Willie". Do you see doo-wop as having an important role in the cosmic equation of space funk?

Clinton: Oh yeah, we were preoccupied with vocals in Parliament. Doo-wop was definitely the essence, because it comes from the same place the blues came from. But we'd do it in conjunction with Maceo Parker and Bootsy Collins. We had a lot of doo-wop in our sound. In Bootsy's stuff there was a lot about old doo-wop, you know like "I'd Rather Be With You" and "What's A Telephone Bill." Parliament and Funkadelic have a lot of doo-wop in it. That's my thing, mixing all the eras of music from Motown to psychedelic to jazz to gospel.

NUVO: Was doo-wop one of the first styles of music to grab your attention as a young person?

Clinton: Oh yeah, that was the music that you could chase the girls with. You know when Frankie Lymon came out with "Why Do Fools Fall in Love"? Rock and roll was just getting started then. Doo-wop and rock and roll were pretty much the same thing.

NUVO: You've likely played well over two dozen shows in Indianapolis throughout your career, and I know you play hundreds of concerts all over the world year after year after year. But I did want to ask you about a couple specific gigs you played here in Indianapolis.

The first show I want to ask you about happened in March of 1978. Parliament-Funkadelic was headlining a tour for Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity). You had a date at Market Square Arena with Cameo and The Bar-Kays, but as part of that tour there was also a contest where Parliament-Funkadelic offered to play a gig at a local Indianapolis high school. And you did indeed play a gig in the gymnasium of Broad Ripple High School for the kids right in the middle of the school day! Do you have any memories of that gig in the Broad Ripple school gym?

Clinton: Yeah I remember that. We did a lot of touring through Indianapolis when we were on Casablanca Records. We used to call it Naptown. Like you said at that particular show we played in the school gym! There was a big echoey sound. [laughs]

NUVO: The kids must have gone crazy, right?

Clinton: Oh yeah, that was right when Parliament-Funkadelic was in the heat of it.

NUVO: Do you think the teachers and the principal at Broad Ripple High School had any reservations about having one of the wildest groups in music playing for the kids during school?

Clinton: No! We tore the joint up, but the teachers were out there dancing just like the kids.

NUVO: The other show I wanted to ask you about happened in July of 1972. Parliament-Funkadelic played at the legendary Madame Walker Theater on Indiana Avenue. Do you have any recollection of that show?

Clinton: Did you have a club there called the 20 Grand?

Slideshow: George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at The Vogue
Slideshow: George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at The Vogue Slideshow: George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at The Vogue Slideshow: George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at The Vogue Slideshow: George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at The Vogue Slideshow: George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at The Vogue Slideshow: George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at The Vogue Slideshow: George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at The Vogue Slideshow: George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at The Vogue

Slideshow: George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic at The Vogue

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic performed at the Vogue Theatre last night alongside Sun Stereo. Here's a selection of photos from photographer Christian Doellner.

By Christian Doellner

Click to View 18 slides

NUVO: No, the 20 Grand club was not on Indiana Avenue. The 20 Grand was on 34th Street, which was several blocks away. But I'm thinking that the 20 Grand could have been the spot where the first Funkadelic show in Indianapolis happened.

Clinton: It was! I have a photographic memory.

NUVO: OK, several great local and national acts played at the 20 Grand. Indianapolis funk legends The Highlighters were the house band for the 20 Grand at one point, and huge stars played the 20 Grand, everyone from Bobby "Blue" Bland, to War, to the O'Jays, to Rudy Ray Moore, to Rufus Thomas, to the Ohio Players played the 20 Grand.

But getting back to that 1972 gig at the Walker.  Do you remember being on Indiana Avenue, and at that time did you have any sense of the music history that went down on the Avenue? Indiana Avenue was like our Beale Street here in Indianapolis.

Clinton: No, I didn't realize that until later on. Later on I realized it was kind of like Memphis or New Orleans and they had a jazz scene and a club scene there. But I did know the 20 Grand was part of some kind of scene because we'd come down there with the radio DJs. They used to call it the "Chitlin' Circuit" and we played that for years.

NUVO: You should check out the book The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'n' Roll by Preston Lauterbach. He demonstrates how the Indianapolis promoter Denver Ferguson laid the groundwork for what would become the Chitlin' Circuit right here in Naptown.

Mr. Clinton, I've been a fan of yours for years. I first saw Parliament-Funkadelic when I was a youngster. I wasn't even old enough to drive and I remember that my mom had to drop me off and pick me up at the concert. The show was at the Murat Theatre. It was September of 1992 and the presidential election was in full swing at that time with Bill Clinton, the first George Bush and Ross Perot running. I remember that show was centered around the theme of the election. You were selling "George Clinton for President" shirts, and you were leading the crowd with chants like "paint the White House black." So I'm wondering if the 2016 presidential election is reflected in your current work and live show?

Clinton: Yeah, we got our latest album out called First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate and the single on that is "Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You?" with Kendrick Lamar and Ice Cube. The album is mirroring all the political craziness that's going on and the vibe that's out there now with all the people that's running. Of course we're always going to have something to say to make you think. It's definitely reflecting what I call the socially engineered, anarchy-induced chaos.

NUVO: I'm curious what you think of Donald Trump and the nasty tone he's established in this election cycle?

Clinton: It's a reality type of world that we live in. That has caught on, the reality shows and that style of communicating and relating. It might not seem quite as bad to some people as it really is - but it's horrible. People are getting desensitized to it. But right now everybody's so pissed at being run over that they really just don't care. It's going to be a mess sooner or later if we can't come to some kind of understanding. Like I said it's socially engineered, anarchy-induced chaos. It's promoted. It's been there for while, but now it's getting real bad.

NUVO: A lot of the classic work you created with Parliament-Funkadelic has contemplated the role music can have in neutralizing the "socially-engineered, anarchy-induced chaos" you just mentioned. It strikes me that many of the concepts in your music mirror the writing of Ishmael Reed in his brilliant 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo and I -

Clinton: OH MY GOD! MUMBO JUMBO! You know that book?

NUVO: Yes, it's one of my all-time favorite books.

Clinton: That's one of my favorite books! It's so parallel with funk.

NUVO: In Mumbo Jumbo, Reed writes about the "Jes Grew", which represents a sort-of blend of ragtime and jazz music with other African American cultural forms. Reed talks about the "Jes Grew" as being a force of liberation. The "Jes Grew" spreads like a virus that the government and authorities can't control or stop. Did Reed's concept of "Jes Grew" influence your ideology of funk?

Clinton: Somebody gave me that book in 1978. I was walking down the street and somebody in a long coat walked up to me and handed me that book. That book was so reminiscent of what we were doing with funk and what I thought funk was going to be about. I just treasured that book.

We actually got Ishmael Reed to do a thing for us. P-Funk had our own version of the Grammys and we called it the Sir Nose Awards [note: Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk, or Sir Nose Devoid of Funk, is an essential character within P-Funk mythology. Sir Nose represents a square character who never dances and is immune to the beneficial forces of funk]. We got Ishmael Reed to come present an award to Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records [who signed Parliament to Casablanca] and Bob Krasnow from Warner Brothers [who signed Funkadelic to Warner]. They were the people who did the most for us, but at the same time they were also the jerks at the record company. We had to give them a Sir Nose Award because even though they'd done a lot for us, we felt they could've done more. Ishmael Reed presented the award and he gave a speech about rats and cheese. He was so good everybody was looking for the cheese on the floor around their feet because they knew there were a lot of rats in there. [laughs]
NUVO: Wow, so you weren't even aware of Mumbo Jumbo and Reed's work until 1978?

Clinton: Right, I didn't know about that book until 1978 and this guy hobbled up to me and gave me a copy on the street. When I read it, it blew me away with Ishmael Reed's rhythm and all the things he said. You know Prince hadn't even come around yet, but in Mumbo Jumbo Reed said somebody was going to show up in Minneapolis or Milwaukee, a mulatto-type of person who would be doing the "Jes Grew" and I'll be damned if Prince didn't show up!

NUVO: Do you see music as having an important role in the movement for social justice?

Clinton: It's a social and political medicine. That's what music is. My next album is going to be called Medicaid Fraud Dog and it's going to deal with all this medicine you see advertised on television. They messing with the DNA and the food. There's a whole food and drug connection that I'm going to be exploring on the next album. And the insurance companies too.

NUVO: Parliament-Funkadelic emerged in an era of socially conscious music like Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Gil Scott-Heron, Nina Simone and The Last Poets. Do you think artists have a responsibility to comment on social issues?

Clinton: Basically an artist should do whatever they feel. They shouldn't have no obligations or nothing, because that ain't something you just do. When it's needed — a Kendrick Lamar shows up. When it's needed — a Public Enemy, or a Bob Dylan, or a Beatles shows up. The system is always going to be downtrodden on the people. But artists paint pictures about what they see. We had no idea about NWA when they was doing what they was doing. We thought it was party music and we was jamming. We didn't even realize the social connotations of what they were saying. We realize it now after Straight Outta Compton much more than you could have when they was doing it.

But there's always a group that shows up that has that message. Gospel groups are always doing it. But right now it's Kendrick Lamar. He's got everybody's jaw hanging.

NUVO: As you mentioned earlier, you recently recorded a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar. What do you think of this new generation of funksters like Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, and Flying Lotus?

Clinton: That's what I'm talking about: Flying Lotus - that's the connection. That crew with Flying Lotus and Thundercat, and all the guys playing with them. That's the new style of funk. That is the future of it. That is the Afrofuturism that we were talking about.

NUVO: Mr. Clinton it was an honor to speak with you today, and before I let you go I wanted to go back to that statement you made earlier regarding funk as being a form of classical music. Do you see funk continuing to grow and evolve after all of us here on Earth now are gone?

Clinton: You know a lot of pop standards came out of melodies from classical music. The same thing is happening to funk with samples used to make other songs. It's just a new way of doing it. Classical music had long pieces, just like in funk music we had long pieces. But now people are into Snapchat and they just want pieces of things. Even though we still specialize in jamming forever — the kids just basically need a piece of that. "Gimme a piece of that, lock it into a loop and let me groove to it." That's cool, that's why they got remixes. But we do both, we make the record and then we sample it and remix it ourselves.

If you go: 
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic 
Friday, May 6, 8 p.m. 
Vogue, 6259 N. College Ave. 
$36.50 - $40, 21+ 

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It's Hoosier on Hoosier in IN Covers series

We chat with IN covers coordinator Sharlene Birdsong

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 at 3:00 PM

The Highlighters are one of the band's covered by the IN Covers series
  • The Highlighters are one of the band's covered by the IN Covers series

Local music nonprofit Musical Family Tree has found a novel method of spreading awareness about the Hoosier state's amazing musical history. MFT has enlisted local musicians to perform cover versions of notable Hoosier music from the past and present in an ongoing series they've titled IN Covers. The project has featured work from both newcomers like Shame Thugs and Louie Louie, as well as scene veterans like The Last IV. The subjects of the IN Covers tributes range from Indy funk legends The Highlighters, to Bloomington art-punk innovators Dancing Cigarettes.

The IN Covers concept was conceived by multi-instrumentalist and producer Sharlene Birdsong. I recently caught up with Birdsong to learn more about IN Covers. Listen to the covers at musicalfamilytree.com

NUVO: Sharlene, before we jump into Musical Family Tree's IN Covers series I wanted to ask you to give our readers a rundown of all the musical projects you're currently part of.

Sharlene Birdsong: I've been playing drums in Thee Tsunamis for about four or five years now. We'll be recording a new album next month. White Moms has a tape coming out soon; I play bass and drums in that band. I just started playing guitar in Louie Louie and drums for The United States Three.

RELATED: Read our review of Thee Tsunamis' Delirium and Dark Water

NUVO: Thee Tsunamis also have an amazing new animated video produced by the Brain Twins for the song "Kill Kill Kill.” How did that come about?

Birdsong: It's a song we wrote in the summer about and it's about summer angst. I asked Brian Twins to the video for us and they did this really elaborate and beautiful video. I gave them some silly ideas and they took the theme and made it work.

NUVO: I've heard that Lesley Gore's classic '60s hit "It's My Party (And I'll Cry if I Want To)" was a big inspiration to you as a young person. How did your childhood fascination with that song lead you to become a musician?

Birdsong: [laughs] Well, I still like Lesley Gore a lot. That's the first song I ever sang karaoke as a kid. I would go to Discovery Zone and sing that song. And I was a crybaby so I could relate.

I really got into local music when I was a teenager. I started going to the Emerson. I liked the hardcore and metal scene. I went to a lot of shows there. My first favorite local band was Perfect Nothing. I just stayed active and kept going to shows, mainly just to get out of the house. But I ended up getting my feet wet in the local scene and just stayed there for years.

NUVO: Tell us what IN Covers is all about.

Birdsong: IN Covers is about local musicians paying tribute to other local musicians. I think Indiana has a really detailed and special history and I think Indiana Covers is a way for local artists to contribute to that. So any local artist can come in and choose a song from any Indiana artist, like Michael Jackson or Wes Montgomery or No Coast — any local band from then or now.

We record one song and it's added to our archive. We've done over 15 so far and there's always one in the works. I try to get one out every month.

NUVO: In addition to developing the concept of IN Covers, you're also producing the sessions, correct?

Birdsong: I wanted to be more involved with MFT and I did that through recording. I set up a studio in my basement. It's just a little home studio. I record all the IN Covers songs to tape, on the same tape machine. They're all done the same way. It's a really nice, wholesome and chill way to record.

NUVO: How long do you envision this series running?

Birdsong: I want to keep it going and I want to get a couple physical releases out. I want to get a good variety of artists and genres. So hopefully there will be a physical release soon, probably a tape to stay true to the vibe.

RELATED: Read Thee Tsunamis' Betsey Bebop's interview with Babes in Toyland's Lori Barbero

NUVO: How can interested local musicians contribute to IN Covers?

Birdsong: You can contact me on the MFT Facebook page. If you want to be involved with any recording projects through MFT you can contact me the same way.

NUVO: Who are some of your own favorite local bands?

Birdsong: My absolute favorite right now is The Vanguards, who were a '70s soul band. They remind me of the Isley Brothers a lot. The Highlighters of course. The Pearls is another, they were an all-girl vocal group. I'm really in this soul hole right now. I've always loved soul and doo-wop music. 
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Merle Haggard and the working class struggle

Revisiting contradictions in the life and music of Haggard

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 9:47 AM

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The legendary country music singer-songwriter Merle Haggard passed away earlier this month on April 6, his 79th birthday.

I've spent the last couple weeks revisiting Haggard's enormous catalog of recorded work, which includes nearly 50 albums released over the course of six decades. It's been fascinating to reexamine Haggard's work in the midst of the current political atmosphere of the United States.

Political pundits have struggled to understand the mood of the electorate during this presidential election cycle. Anger, resentment and distrust of establishment politics have fueled the ascendancy of outsider candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Many in the media have been confounded by what they view as a very sudden and unexpected shift in the attitudes of the American public, particularly in regard to the rise of Donald Trump. Pledging support for an isolationist foreign policy, extolling the virtues of conservative Judeo-Christian beliefs, and voicing serious concern over job losses in the crumbling American manufacturing industry, Trump rocketed to the top of the Republican presidential heap.

As a songwriter, Merle Haggard has been addressing issues in line with this discourse for the entirety of his career. Haggard became famous for chronicling the concerns and troubles of America's white working class and poor, a trait that earned Haggard the designation "poet of the working man.”

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Perhaps if politicians had listened more carefully to the concerns of working class white Americans, as expressed through the songs of Merle Haggard, we wouldn't be dealing with the menace of Trump's demagoguery today.
Haggard was a masterful wordsmith, with an ability to express complex emotional and social themes in a poetic but straightforward language that was immediately digestible to country music audiences. While I'm a huge fan of Haggard's music, I can't say that I agreed with all the sentiments he expressed in his lyrics. I feel there were times when the songwriter pandered to the conservative opinions of his core country music audience. But there were also times when Haggard challenged the conservative beliefs of those same fans. At some point in his career, Haggard has probably alienated every single one of his followers, myself included.

Haggard was born in Southern California to parents who migrated West from Oklahoma during the Great Depression. He grew up in serious poverty. His family lived in a makeshift home constructed from a railroad boxcar. At age nine, Haggard's father died, and he spent the remainder of his youth being shuffled in and out of juvenile detention facilities until an arrest for attempted robbery landed Haggard in San Quentin Prison around age nineteen. "I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole" Haggard sings in his moving 1968 hit "Mama Tried.”

Haggard drew artistic inspiration from his difficult past throughout his career. His first three number one records - "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive" "Branded Man" and "Sing Me Back Home" - all comment on some aspect of prison life and his conflicts with the law. 1968's "Branded Man" is my favorite of these early hits, expressing the pain of an ex-convict attempting to integrate back into society. In early 1969 Haggard racked up his fifth number one record with "Hungry Eyes" a ballad reflecting on the poverty of his youth. "Us kids were just too young to realize that another class of people put us somewhere just below. One more reason for my mama's hungry eyes."

A few months later Haggard hit the top of the charts again with "Workin' Man Blues.” "I ain't never been on welfare and that's one place I'll never be," Haggard sings in what would be the first of many major songs he'd pen expressing the frustrations of America's working class. A couple of my personal favorites on this theme include 1977's "A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today," where Haggard laments the difficulty of living in debt, or 1990's "Under The Bridge," which connects the issue of homelessness with the decline of American jobs.

Haggard's next pair of number one records, earned the singer an unwanted reputation as a mouthpiece for conservative politicians. 1969's "Okie from Muskogee" finds Haggard throwing punches against the liberal hippie culture of the '60s. 1970's "The Fightin' Side of Me" is an angry, jingoistic defense of American militarism written during the height of resistance to the Vietnam war. Both of these songs became career-defining hits for Haggard, championed by the Nixon administration and loved by millions of fans across the country.

A 1969 Atlantic Monthly review of a Haggard concert in Dayton, Ohio observed the enormous influence the singer's right-wing anthems had on audiences of that period: "Suddenly they are on their feet, berserk, waving flags and stomping and whistling and cheering… and for those brief moments the majority isn’t silent anymore.” Sound familiar?

While Haggard continued to perform these songs up until his death, he often took the opportunity to distance himself from the message. In a 2007 interview with Deke Dickerson for a Bear Family Records box set Haggard stated he was "dumb as a rock" during this period: "I thought that the government told us the truth, and I thought that marijuana made you walk around with your mouth open… they were young kids that I was irritated with, and they were doing things that I thought were un-American. Well, it wasn't un-American, they were smarter than me! Kids are always smarter than the old folks....they see through our bigotry, and our hypocrisy. And I had a great lesson in life to learn, that they were already aware of. I believe history has proven them right. The Vietnam War was a hoax, the reason we went to war was a lie," Haggard said.

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Interestingly, Haggard attempted to release two songs around this time that distanced himself from a right-wing persona, but Capitol Records initially refused to issue the work. "There's no way the world will understand that love is blind," Haggard sings on his interracial love ballad "Irma Jackson.” And on the unreleased 1970 tune "Somewhere in Between" Haggard wrote "I stand looking at the left wing, and I turn towards the right and either side don't look too good examined under light… I stand somewhere in between divided wings."

The ability to learn, grow and change is one of the characteristics I admired most about Haggard as an artist. In the final decade of his career Haggard's views evolved in ways that surely mystified his longtime fans. His 2005 track "America First" criticizes American imperialist military campaigns in sharp contrast to the "love it, leave it" attitude expressed in The Fightin' Side of Me.” "Let's get out of Iraq and get back on the track," Haggard sings. "Let's rebuild America first. Why don't we liberate these United States, we're the ones who need it the most. And maneuvering far outside the realm of conservative respectability, Haggard composed a pair of tunes for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

A fundamental theme throughout Haggard's work was an attempt to find value, meaning and pride in the lives of human beings the establishment may have written off as worthless or criminal. Sadly, Haggard didn't always honor this defense of the culturally maligned. After 9/11, comments Haggard made about Muslims raised hackles - but this is the same man who answered an invitation to perform from former KKK leader David Duke with the message "go get fucked."
There's as much wisdom about the American experience in Haggard's songs as you'll find in the work of great writers like John Steinbeck or Langston Hughes. In this difficult period of our nation's history where many of us are struggling to understand the psyche of our fellow countrymen, Merle Haggard's work – and life – holds substantial insight.
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