Step one: Start with a good-quality, well-built hurdy-gurdy
By Kyle Long
on Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 4:00 PM
Bloomington based multi-instrumentalist Tomás Lozano plays one of the most fantastic and mysterious instruments on planet Earth – and for that, he's one of the greatest gems of the Indiana music scene. In addition to performing with a handful of the Hoosier state’s most unique music ensembles, Lozano is also a co-founder of the Indiana Hurdy-Gurdy Workshop.
And what is a hurdy-gurdy? It's a musical instrument operated by turning a crank, which spins an internal wheel that rubs across a set of strings like the bow of a violin. Much like the bagpipe, the hurdy-gurdy is a multi-voiced instrument that is capable of simultaneously producing both a steady drone and melody. The hurdy-gurdy first appeared in Europe roughly 1,000 years ago and after a period of decline in the 20th century, has experienced a modern renaissance thanks to adventurous musicians like Lozano.
Tomás Lozano: I began playing the hurdy-gurdy back in 1999. But, I first saw a hurdy-gurdy in Spain when I was 16. I saw a hurdy-gurdy player and I was just mesmerized by the instrument. But it’s not the sort of instrument you can just go to the music store and buy. So it took me many, many years to get one.
When I first acquired my first hurdy-gurdy, I had no one to teach me. I had no one to show me the technical parts — and the hurdy-gurdy requires a lot of technical adjustments and tweaks. To set it up, you have to put cotton on the strings, you have to add just the right amount of rosin, and there are many other small details needed to make the instrument playable. Because I had to learn it all myself, I had a really hard time in the beginning. So I’m always open to helping new hurdy-gurdy players learn so they will not go nuts like I did. I went nuts for a long time just trying to make it playable.
NUVO: You mentioned first seeing the instrument played in Spain. In Spain, the hurdy-gurdy is known as the zanfona, correct? Can you tell us about the instrument’s role in Spanish music?
Lozano: In Spain the zanfona was traditionally played in the Northwest region of the country, particularly in Galicia. It was played for different social events and dances. It was accompanied by bagpipes and drums sometimes, or just the instrument by itself with someone singing. It was also played by blind men and beggars. During different times in history, it had different roles.
Then in Spain in the 1960s, the instrument almost disappeared. There was basically only one or two families that played the instrument. But in the 21st century the instrument has had a big revival. All over Europe the instrument is having a big revival.
NUVO: I would guess that revival has been led by musicians like you who are rediscovering the hurdy-gurdy and bringing it back into circulation.
Lozano: Yes, but in Spain there was no one making hurdy-gurdies for many years. Then one guy started to make them, and now there are several people making really good hurdy-gurdies in Spain.
NUVO: For me the hurdy-gurdy was always a very mysterious instrument, particularly in regard to how it worked and how the sound was produced. You used the word “mesmerized” to describe your first response to the instrument. What was it about the hurdy-gurdy that mesmerized you? Was it the sound itself, or the mechanics of the instrument?
Lozano: Everything. I was mesmerized by how it worked, the shape, the keys, the cranking of the wheel, and all the different sounds that could be made. I encounter that response many times now from other people when I play the instrument.
The hurdy-gurdy is an instrument where you either love it, or you don’t. Sometimes there is no middle point with it. I know people who really hate it! [laughs] They hate the sound. But other people hear it and say, “Wow!”
NUVO: You’re part of a few different groups in Bloomington including Daily Bread & Butter and Kativar. I know you also perform with the Arabic music ensemble Salaam. What role does the hurdy-gurdy have in your work with these groups?
Lozano: In Daily Bread & Butter it has a big role because the instrumentation of the trio is Hungarian accordion, different bagpipes from Europe, and the hurdy-gurdy. We play traditional dance music from Europe. Many of the pieces we play were actually originally played with hurdy-gurdy in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
With Salaam I play some Middle Eastern tunes using lots of drones on the hurdy-gurdy. The hurdy-gurdy has a buzzing bridge that can work as percussion and I work with Salaam’s percussionist Tim Moore to create rhythms while at the same time I am playing drones. So the hurdy-gurdy brings all these different layers.
In Kativar I play the hurdy-gurdy in a couple different ballads, playing the melody and the drones as well. As you said the hurdy-gurdy is a little bit mysterious, it adds different layers of deepness and musicality into the group.
I also play with another band called M3RDE which features two hurdy-gurdies and a bagpipe. We play traditional French tunes. I play an alto hurdy-gurdy, Michael Opp plays a soprano hurdy-gurdy, and Clancy Clements plays bagpipes, musette and the Border pipes. We play dance tunes from Auvergne, Brittany and other regions of France. It’s a very unusual combination in the United States to see not only one hurdy-gurdy - but two hurdy-gurdies playing at the same time.
NUVO: Is that pairing of bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy a traditional instrumental combination commonly found in Europe?
Lozano: Yes, they were traditionally played together in many events. For example, in the central region of France they would have wedding parades led by bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy. Behind them would be the groom and bride and the guests. They would go around from the church to a place of celebration and the hurdy-gurdy and bagpipes would play for the dancers after the wedding. Later when the accordion appeared, hurdy-gurdy was also played with accordion. So I would say it’s common to find hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes and accordion playing together in Europe.
NUVO: As you mentioned the hurdy-gurdy often provokes curiosity, and you’ve worked to develop an amazing program for anyone who has an interest in learning more about the instrument. From Thursday, August 18 to Monday, August 22 you will be part of Early Music in Motion’s fifth Indiana Hurdy-gurdy Workshop which is happening in Brown County. Am I correct that this is the only hurdy-gurdy workshop in North America?
Lozano: Yes, I think it’s currently the only hurdy-gurdy workshop here. There used to be a hurdy-gurdy workshop in Seattle years ago, but they stopped. So five years ago I started this hurdy-gurdy workshop with two other friends. We started it because there was nothing else in the happening in the States and having it in Indiana was a good central point. We have people coming from both coasts and all over the U.S. So this is a little more convenient for everyone rather than having it in the Northwest.
Wikimedia Commons via Enfo
Fotografies fetes durant el Backstage pass al Museu de la Música de Barcelona, el 21-11-2013
NUVO: Is the workshop open to all levels of skill and interest?
Lozano: Yes, it’s open to everybody. We have Michael Opp teaching the beginner hurdy-gurdy class. Scott Gayman will be teaching the advanced and intermediate classes. And there’s a class from Robert Greene who teaches Baroque hurdy-gurdy.
Most of the people in the United States who play hurdy-gurdy are beginners, because it is an instrument that was introduced in this country not too many years ago. Every year there’s more people playing the instrument here - but still, it’s not like in Europe where there are lots of players at different levels.
NUVO: Finally, do you have any words of advice for our readers who may be interested in learning to play the hurdy-gurdy?
Lozano: The first thing I would say is buy a good hurdy-gurdy. Some hurdy-gurdies are not very good quality and that makes the learning curve much, much harder. There are things about the hurdy-gurdy and the adjustments you have to make to the instrument that can make your life very miserable. Start with a good quality, well-built instrument and that will make your life much easier.
By Kyle Long
on Wed, Aug 10, 2016 at 1:58 PM
Master Ka Leung Ching, or Teacher Ka as he is affectionately known to his rabid listeners, is one of the most memorable personalities I've ever encountered within the Indianapolis music scene.
Teacher Ka is an extraordinary musician and the leader and founder of the Indianapolis Chinese Orchestra. During one conversation, he told me he plays around 30 different instruments, and during a recent concert, I was enthralled to watch Ka pick up several different traditional Chinese instruments and perform beautifully.
But Ka is not interested in using the Indianapolis Chinese Orchestra as a forum for his musical virtuosity. Instead he wants to see the group become a vehicle for cultural inclusion and diversity in Indianapolis.
Teacher Ka has an irrepressible passion for sharing music, and finding ways to connect the traditions of East and West. Though Ka speaks almost no English, his kind spirit and joyful music communicate in volumes. If you ever have a chance to meet Teacher Ka, or attend one of his performances with the Indianapolis Chinese Orchestra, I thoroughly recommend it.
NUVO: Tell us where you grew up and what initially sparked your interest in music as a young person.
Teacher Ka: I was born in the countryside of the Western part of China. When I was in elementary school one of my schoolmates, a young girl, had a Chinese flute and that triggered my interest in music.
NUVO: Were your parents also musicians?
Ka: My father was fond of singing, but my parents had no knowledge of music.
NUVO: Did you study music at an academic institution?
Ka: I developed a curiosity for different types of Chinese music and instruments. That fueled my desire to learn. Basically I learned music by myself. But really, through a blessing of God, I was exposed to so many situations where I met talented musicians and learned different instruments and skills from these encounters.
I would have really loved to be educated from a musical institute. But unfortunately, when I was a young man the political, social and economic situation in my country did not allow me to even have the expectation to fulfill that dream. The environment was not under my control and the only way for me to learn music was to study independently and with other musicians I met.
NUVO: Did you have the opportunity to perform with any orchestras while you were living in China?
Ka: I don't want to talk too much about my time in China. I want to emphasize that I really started performing music in Hong Kong. From China I moved to Hong Kong and I stayed there for almost twenty years. When I was in Hong Kong I was very active in performing Chinese music. I established a number of orchestras in different religious high schools in Hong Kong. The students and myself were invited to perform internationally all over Asia, and even Austria.
NUVO: Teacher Ka, I've seen you perform on several instruments, from Chinese instruments including the hulusi and erhu, to western instruments like the saxophone. I'm curious if you know exactly how many instruments you play?
Ka: [laughs] Well, I never tried to make a count of how many I could play. But most likely I can play twenty or thirty — but I'm not an expert on all those instruments.
NUVO: I want to skip ahead to your time here in Indianapolis. Can you tell me about forming the Indianapolis Chinese Orchestra?
Ka: Whatever I've achieved in life has been through the blessing of God. When I came to Indianapolis about six years ago, I saw there were not as many Chinese citizens here as on the East or West coast of the United States. But I was surprised one time when I was brought into a Chinese Christian church here and met the people, and they were very interested in Chinese music.
That is how our orchestra started, the early structure was just a few families playing for fun. There was no organization at first. But through a blessing of God, more and more people have been interested in our group.
The orchestra started in the year of 2010. So for six years our group has been growing quite a bit. The efforts of group member Kwan Hui have helped to add structure to our organization and we've truly become an orchestra.
NUVO: In addition to presenting Chinese music, I know you have a greater vision for the group's role in the community. Tell us about your mission for the orchestra.
Ka: I was brought to this great country through a blessing from God. Though I don't have a lot I can contribute to this society, I try my best by using my musical skills to lead the orchestra and to contribute some color and diversity to the great city of Indianapolis.
I really enjoy having other ethnic groups join our orchestra. While we call ourselves a "Chinese Orchestra," we are actually multi-ethnic. We are not only Chinese; We do have a number of Americans participating in the group. It is our desire to have more local Hoosier folks to join our group.
NUVO: A good example of your desire to reach out beyond the Chinese community can be found in the orchestra's repertoire. In addition to playing Chinese folk and classical melodies, the orchestra also performs several American songs. At a recent concert I saw the group playing everything from "The Yellow Rose of Texas" to "Back Home Again in Indiana." Tell us about the orchestra's repertoire and the inclusion of popular American melodies.
Ka: We have approximately 300 songs in our repertoire, encompassing Chinese music, Western pop, folk and religious music, plus other forms of international music from India, Korea and Japan. I'm a musician who loves all kinds of music, western music, Chinese music, other types of ethnic music. As long as the music is beautiful and pleases my ear I will try to present it. I feel our orchestra is not only for the local Chinese ethnic folks, but we are open to the entire city, and we love to present our music to other groups.
Over time we've done many presentations here in Indianapolis. We observed that if we do a presentation purely of Chinese music that while the audience enjoys the performance, there is a lack of interaction. However, when we add different varieties of music like American film songs and folk music, the audience becomes very active. We see them waving their hands and moving their bodies. The response would change from just sitting and listening, to actually expressing their feelings. For me this proves our orchestra is going in the correct direction as we try to reach out to the entire population of Indianapolis.
NUVO: Any final thoughts on the future of the Indianapolis Chinese Orchestra, or more generally the future of Chinese music in Indiana?
Ka: Our expectation is to use our music to reach out to the entire state of Indiana. Crossing cultures is our hope and expectation for the orchestra. We want to see more non-ethnic Chinese musicians join to make our group a truly diverse rainbow orchestra. That is our dream for the future.
Note: I want to send a huge thank you out to Indianapolis Chinese Orchestra member Kwan Hui who kindly interpreted for Teacher Ka during this interview. If you'd like more information on the Indianapolis Chinese Orchestra, contact me at email@example.com.
By Kyle Long
on Tue, Aug 2, 2016 at 2:56 PM
A young Tony Black
Tony Black is the sort of wonderfully unconventional artistic eccentric that every hardcore music fan dreams of encountering. Professing to have written as many as 400 songs, the entirety of Black’s musical reputation rests solely on the shoulders of one release.
In the early 1970s, Black collaborated with the powerhouse Indianapolis funk group Revolution Compared To What on a 45 RPM single that would go on to become an internationally desired collector’s item and lead the iconoclastic hip-hop legend Madlib on a pilgrimage to Black’s Indianapolis home.
That record remains the one and only release in Black’s short career as a recording artist. I recently sought Black out to get the full, untold story behind this highly sought-after slice of Indianapolis music.
I was pleased to learn so much more than I had anticipated as Black shared the inside baseball on his work with famed Indy soul label Lamp Records, his deep friendship with Revolution Compared To What bandleader Miles “Butch” Loyd, his surprise collaboration with Hoosier R&B greats The Vanguards, and for the first time ever, Black documented how he came to record what is likely the earliest-known recording of Indianapolis music superstar Kenny “Babyface” Edmunds.
Tune into 90.1 WFYI’s radio edition of Cultural Manifesto on Wednesday, August 17 at 9 p.m. to hear a special sneak preview of the never-before-heard Babyface demos that Tony Black recorded over 40 years ago.
NUVO: Did you grow up in Indianapolis?
Tony Black: Yes, I grew up in Lockefield Gardens. It was considered public housing way back when. That was the place of my birth, but by the time I graduated high school we moved to the North end of Indianapolis and I attended Shortridge High School.
NUVO: What year did you graduate?
Black: In 1962.
NUVO: So you grew up in Lockefield Gardens, which was right in the heart of the Indiana Avenue music scene. Was the Avenue music culture an influence on you as a young person?
Black: I remember some of it. But it wasn’t something that a kid my age at the time was really interested in. I wasn’t old enough to go into the blues and jazz joints.
What I did do was sell Jet and Ebony magazines up and down Indiana Avenue. The only thing I would do with my money was buy records. I would sell my little Jet and Ebony magazines and go to the record shop.
NUVO: What were you listening to at that time?
Black: R&B and soul music, basically. The things that really interested me were the high-tenor R&B singers. My idol was Smokey Robinson.
NUVO: When did you develop an interest in trying to create your own music?
Black: When I was in the Air Force me and a couple fellows entered a talent contest. We sang a song I’d written. It was all a cappella. We didn’t win, but later I heard fellows going up and down the barracks hall humming my song! [laughs] That encouraged me to keep working on my songs after I got out of the Air Force.
Also, I had an uncle who lived in Chicago. There was a big group from Chicago called Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. Two of the Impressions lived on either side of my uncle. Since they lived that close, my aunt and uncle used to talk over the fence to the Impressions. They mentioned that their nephew, meaning me, wrote songs and asked would they be willing to listen if I submitted some songs. They said yes.
The next time we had a family gathering my aunt and uncle related that back to me. But I didn’t play any instruments, I just had ideas. So that was an inspiration and motivation to get more serious about writing songs and I became determined to learn how to play a keyboard. To be quite honest, I don’t really play that well now even. But I got skilled enough to where I could record a song I had heard in my head. We used reel to reel tapes back then. If I didn’t get to a recorder quick enough, I’d lose the inspiration. By the time I threaded the reel to reel tape, I’d probably lost the inspiration of the song. [laughs]
That opportunity to have the Impressions listen to my songs led me to try to find some musicians to help me record my ideas, and I met a fellow named Matthew Watson.
NUVO: Matthew Watson was the drummer for the Ebony Rhythm Band who were the house band for the Lamp Records label.
Black: Right, I asked Matthew if his band could play behind me so I could submit a quality performance demo to the Impressions in Chicago. Matthew said to me “why do you want to take your songs all the way up to Chicago? There’s a record label getting started here in Indianapolis called Lamp and they’re looking for songs.” He gave me the location and I did end up going through the doors of Lamp Records. They were located around 21st and Illinois Street.
Herb Miller was the head of the label, he also did the publishing and he was an agent. He did a little bit of everything. He wore a lot of hats and some people complained he was spread a little too thin. But he had a lot of talent. There were several groups that he managed.
I expressed to Herb that I’d never performed before, but I had an opportunity to write songs for the Impressions. He said “I’ve got talent here that need songs. Let me hear what you’ve got.” He told me his group The Vanguards were playing at a club down on Indiana Avenue. I went down to meet the group at the club. I was scared as all get-out because I’d never performed anywhere for anybody. I’d only played at home when I was recording my songs to tape.
But I went into the club to audition my song for the group. The club had an organ and I sat down there. James Davis, the lead singer of The Vanguards, gave me the cue to go ahead and I played “It’s Too Late For Love”. The next thing I heard after I finished… I don’t know if I can put some profanity in here, but I heard The Vanguards’ bass vocalist say, “That sounds like shit.” [laughs]
That was disappointing to me. It was a let down and I went home in a funk. I thought maybe I don’t have any kind of songwriting skills.
After that I decided to go into debt and buy an organ, because I wanted to try to learn to do better than I had when I submitted that song to The Vanguards. I had to make payments on the organ, it was a Wurlitzer organ by the way. I remember the bank that held the note was down on the circle, and one day I went to make a payment and the lady gave me back twice as much money as the payment should’ve been. I was counting the money when I was walking out I thought “I don’t think I can keep this.” So I went back and told her, and she thanked me. I left, and got in my car. I turned on the radio and my song “It’s Too Late For Love” was playing!
I’d had no communication with The Vanguards or Herb Miller after I auditioned the song. I drove straight to Lamp Records after I heard that.
NUVO: So the The Vanguards recorded “It’s Too Late For Love” for Lamp Records without your knowledge or approval, and you didn’t find out until you randomly heard it getting radio airplay?
Black: That’s correct. I think that was my reward for returning that money at the bank that day.
NUVO: Did The Vanguards model their arrangement of the song off your audition performance at the club, or had you also submitted a demo tape?
Black: I think I gave Lamp a reel to reel demo. The final product was very polished. I can’t take any credit for the arrangement, but it was my song.
NUVO: That must have been a very surreal experience to turn on the radio and hear a song you’d composed — but without any prior knowledge that it had been recorded. Do you remember what you were thinking in that moment?
Black: I had mixed emotions. I think I was backing up traffic because I just sat there in my car listening. Like I said, I drove to straight to Lamp Records when the song ended. Herb Miller said “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you,” and I believed him.
That record did well here in the city and that gave me confidence to write more songs. After that I submitted some more demos to James Davis of The Vanguards, and he said to me, “Why don’t you make your own record?” I said “I don’t do any performing.” You know, music has always been more of a hobby for me.
NUVO: Right, you had a very good day job working for Eli Lilly.
Black: That’s right. You know more about me than I do. [laughs] But James Davis told me rather than keep submitting songs for The Vanguards I should try to make my own record and it might do okay.
NUVO: That suggestion led to the creation of your lone release as an artist, a Lamp Records 45 single you recorded with the Indianapolis funk band Revolution Compared To What. How did you get connected with Revolution Compared To What?
Black: I wanted to find a band that would take time to listen to what I was trying to portray through lyrics and melody. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Miles “Butch” Loyd, the leader of Revolution Compared To What lived near me. I remember walking by his door and I heard this band really hitting it and kicking. I knocked on the door, and they let me in. I went inside and there were all these youngsters. They weren’t babies or nothing, but they were younger than me. Some of them were still in high school and they practiced in the front room of Butch’s parents’ house.
After they finished I introduced myself and let them know I was interested in having a band help me with my songs. I told Butch I didn’t have any money to pay the band, but if they’d help me make a record I’d do the A-side and let them make the B-side. He was doing me a favor and the only compensation was to be on the flip-side of my record, which turned out to be the song “Huh," which is spelled H - U - H.
NUVO: Right, the title was misspelled as “Hua” on the label of the original Lamp release.
Black: That’s right, it was kind of a frustrating ordeal. They misspelled the song’s title and they put the label on the wrong side of the record. I said “my goodness, you really got to be on top of this thing.”
But Butch was eager to do it. He was aware of “It’s Too Late For Love” and the success of that song was kind of the catalyst for our collaboration. He said “maybe we can write some hits together.” He said it in a joking and joyful way, but I thought “yes, let’s hope.” He was more than willing to get something going.
So we recorded my song “Huh” as the A-side, and Revolution Compared To What’s “Go To Work” was the B-side. Other than coming up with the lyric, I had a limited role in “Go To Work”. I think the bass player deserves most of the credit.
There wasn’t a squabble or anything, but I think the band wanted to make “Go To Work” the A-side of the record. In retrospect “Go To Work” became the hit side, and my song “Huh” kind of faded away I think.
NUVO: You mentioned that when you first heard Revolution Compared To What they were a very young group of musicians. Were you impressed by their sound right away?
Black: Oh yes, they were no slouches. They were kicking! Butch had a talent where he could hear a song one time and then tell the band how to play it. At that time they weren’t playing any original songs.
NUVO: I want to read a blurb to you from the June 26, 1971 edition of the Indianapolis Recorder. “Revolution Compared to What is a nine piece jazz-rock group which has literally devastated audiences wherever they have performed.” Does that sound like an accurate description of the band to you?
Black: Wow, that’s how I felt about them! I didn’t know that was in print though. I was just amazed by Butch. He ruled that band with an iron hand. (laughs)
Butch became like my right hand man. He had some problems with his lifestyle, but it wasn’t chronic yet at that time. He lived the life of some of the lyrics of the songs - the sadness.
This pamphlet here sums up his life. [Note: picks up a program for Miles “Butch” Loyd’s funeral] I wish I could’ve done something to… [pauses] He was depressed sometimes. He was skilled as all get-out and really just a talented individual that probably didn’t realize how talented he was. He could lead a nine-piece band and know what each part was doing. He was a phenomenon. He died young, and after he was gone I didn’t have the skills to interpret and audition my music to anyone that would’ve come along.
Tony Black and his wife
NUVO: As you mentioned earlier, Butch’s “Go To Work” became the more successful side off your 45 RPM single. In 2001 “Go To Work” was included on Stones Throw Records’ Funky 16 Corners, a highly influential compilation of rare funk music.
You stated that you had a limited role in the creation of “Go To Work”. I’m curious if you were in the studio with the band when they recorded that track?
Black: [laughs] I’m laughing because “Go To Work” never a saw a studio. It was done in my living room and my basement. Well, I say “my” but I was living in my mom and dad’s house at that late age. That track kind of floated back and forth from Butch’s house to mine. I had a nice full-size basement that could accommodate the band. As a matter of fact they would just leave their instruments in my basement many times.
NUVO: Did you record both sides of the release at your house?
Black: Yes, my mom and dad weren’t really living in the house at the time. So I would go to work at Eli Lilly, and when I came home I could work on the music and not have any interference.
NUVO: Did the record get any airplay?
Black: Some of the local disc jockeys were playing it, but mostly late at night.
NUVO: Lamp Records was such an important Indianapolis label. Do you have any thoughts on the label’s founder Herb Miller that you’d like to share?
Black: The only thing negative I could say is that I thought he wore too many hats and that kind of bogged down the potential for the product he was putting out. I think he was a fireman too, I don’t know how he squeezed all that work into one day.
NUVO: Was Lamp Records basically a one-man operation?
Black: As far as I knew it was. He had a partner, but from what I knew the partner was more into doing things that pertained to promoting the boxing side of their business. Herb did more of the music side.
NUVO: I’m curious if you ever performed any live gigs with Revolution Compared To What during this period?
Black: I did three live performances during my span of time as a songwriter. One performance that gave me a real good feeling was when someone booked Revolution Compared To What and billed them as the band behind “Huh." That’s when the song was getting a little bit of radio attention and I worked up enough nerve to sing at that performance.
I also performed with the group at the 500 Ballroom in the Convention Center. That was around the time the Convention Center had just been completed. I was honored that our performance was the first function the 500 Ballroom was ever used for. Of course I sang “Huh," and I sang a couple of Smokey Robinson’s songs, and a song by The Montclairs.
But I had stage fright. That session at the Convention Center didn’t bother me as much as my third try at performing. The third time I performed I had what seemed like a nervous breakdown. After that third time I didn’t ever want to get in front of a mic again, especially in front of a crowd.
I decided around that time that I’d probably just stick with my day job.
NUVO: That 45 RPM single featuring “Huh” and “Go To Work” stands as your first, last and only solo release. But as I mentioned before, your work with Revolution Compared To What was given a second life when “Go To Work” appeared on Funky 16 Corners. How did the opportunity to be featured on that comp come about?
Black: If there ever was a time that something just came around out of the blue - that was it. A young man who had a great sense of soul music just called me out of the blue, his name is Egon and he’s with Stones Throw Records. He found me because my name was on the record label and he probably realized I was someone he should talk to about licensing. That’s how I found out the song had some shelf life.
After Egon got in touch with me, they all came out to Indianapolis and visited me. Him and Peanut Butter Wolf and Madlib all came out to to talk about “Go To Work” and I signed a licensing agreement along with Miles “Butch” Loyd and Herb Miller. It wasn’t no exorbitant amount, but I was just humbled by it all. It brings a smile to my face every now and then.
Egon called me not too long ago and said that the record is still doing real well overseas, and one other noteworthy thing he said was that “Go To Work” had been used as fill-in music on some TV show, I think it was Sex and the City. Anyway they were able to achieve some kind of royalties off that. Egon has been really good about explaining these things to me.
NUVO: Your appearance on the Funky 16 Corners compilation created a great demand for original Lamp pressings of the “Huh”/“Go To Work” 45 release. Would you have ever imagined that this modestly successful local record you released forty-years ago would one day be selling for upwards of six-hundred dollars?
Black: No, I never would’ve believed it. It surprises me that people are still listening to that record. I’m somewhat spiritual and I think the lord brought all this back for a reason. But I haven’t figured out what that reason is yet.
I want to emphasize that “Go To Work” is not my creation, my involvement just came out this arrangement Butch and I made so I could get my song “Huh” recorded. My contribution to “Go To Work” is a tambourine and the banter of the dissatisfied employee, there was a hole little skit on that song. I wish I could remember the name of the bass player, because that’s what really drove the record and made it funky. I wish I’d had more involvement in it, as far as the creation of the song. But I’m not a skilled musician.
NUVO: In addition to recording “Go To Work” in your basement, I understand that you also recorded what is likely the earliest existing audio of a teenaged Kenny “Babyface” Edmunds. How did you happen to record Babyface in your basement?
Black: Kenny’s brother Melvin Edmunds was a vocalist for Revolution Compared To What. Melvin was a fantastic vocalist. Later on he was in After 7 and they had some big hits.
They didn’t call Kenny Babyface then. He was still in high school at that time, and his group practiced over in my basement. I think it may have been the beginnings of his group Tarnished Silver. I remember listening to this young kid with these beautiful melodies and sorrowful lyrics and thinking he and his group were like seasoned vets. I recorded six of their songs and they were all superior to anything I could’ve done. That slowed me down, because I said “my stuff ain’t nowhere near this good.” [laughs] Unknowingly Babyface discouraged me as a songwriter. He shut my stuff down.
You could tell right away that he was going to blow up. I didn’t contribute anything to the music, other than just getting it on tape. They were aware I was recording it, but I don’t know if they’d remember it now.
NUVO: Lamp Records folded in the early to mid ‘70s. It seems like Lamp was your only forum for getting your songs released. Did you continue writing songs after your time working with Lamp ended?
Black: I’ve got probably three or four-hundred half-finished songs. I still get ideas for songs. Sometimes something I see on TV, or hear on the radio that will inspire me. When I was at Eli Lilly the syncopated rhythms of the machines I was working with would inspire me to write music.
I have a stack of ideas, but very few finished songs. I didn’t complete many songs other than the ones that were recorded.
I always think about Smokey Robinson when I write. I don’t know Smokey, but I did meet him one time. I was working for Eli Lilly in Lafayette and he did a show at Purdue. I was still trying to promote my music then. I had “It’s Too Late For Love” on 45 and I was hoping that if I could run into Smokey I could get a critique. This is shameful, but I thought if I could butter him up he might help a young songwriter out. [laughs]
I went to the venue he was performing at with The Miracles in Lafayette. I had my 45 with me and I knocked on one of the doors around the performance area. The person who answered the door told me they were probably staying at this particular hotel where all the artists stay at when they come to town. Reluctantly, I decided to go to the hotel she’d directed me to and when I got there I knocked on the door - and there was Smokey Robinson! He said “yes?” But I got so tongue-tied that I probably said something unintelligible. I remember just sticking out my hand and pointing to the 45. [laughs] It was really awkward. I probably didn’t make a good impression. I was starstruck and I was just mesmerized. It wasn’t a long conversation because he told me Motown had a rule that artists couldn’t receive unsolicited material while they were touring.
NUVO: You’ve written 300 to 400 unreleased songs? That’s astonishing to me! Ideally, what would you like to see happen with these songs? Would you like to see this music released to the public at some point, or were these things you created more out of a personal need to express yourself artistically?
Black: That’s basically what it was. You know I think I could get over stage fright, but the business of music has become too complicated for me and It’s not a high priority for me to figure it out.
NUVO: I’m so curious about this. Something drove you to write and record over 300 songs. Do you ever have a desire to see some of these songs released on a CD or record?
Black: [unexpectedly laughs loudly] Excuse me, I’m just sitting here thinking about the guy in The Vanguards who told me my song sounds like shit. I don’t know if I’m ready to deal with that type of thing again.
[Note: At this point Tony Black’s son Evan interjects, exclaiming, “Well, obviously he was wrong!” Evan’s comment elicits a large round of laughter from all three of us]
NUVO: I totally understand how you feel. When I put out my columns and radio shows I have to deal with all kinds of trolls and critics. One hundred people can tell you they think your work is great, but you never forget that one person who says you’re shit.
Mr. Black, earlier you told me that music has essentially been a hobby for you. It seems like you were happy working your day job, raising your family, and approaching music strictly as a hobby. Do you ever look back and wish you’d pursued songwriting more aggressively?
Black: I don’t have a lot of regrets. I opted for early retirement at Eli Lilly because I wanted to pursue my hobby of songwriting, but I don’t believe I have the confidence for it. I’m somewhat shy about playing my songs. Butchie had a way of bringing me in and building my confidence. When Butch passed away it was like my arm was chopped off. I didn’t have anything to fall back on in terms of getting my songs heard. I relied so heavily on Butch, I don’t think I could ever rely on my own ability at all. I know I would never be able to reach Butch’s skill level.
It surprises me whenever I hear that someone likes my music, and that inspires me to keep going on with it. But there’s no one running to my door trying to get to my music, and I don’t really have a lot of hope for that.
Sometimes music can bring you joy. Sometimes music can bring you melancholy, too, and you’re there wanting for someone to help take you out of the melancholy that comes from a love that was lost. Those are the themes in music I really enjoy.
I have some songs that are upbeat, but mostly my songs are sad. I’m going through some things now, some of it is medical and some of it is from losing my wife to breast cancer. I don’t always run to the piano and pick out a melody because of something that happened in real life. But one day maybe I can write a song that reaches to the depths of a person who is feeling that, or going through something similar to that.
I guess I haven’t really answered your question about my unreleased songs. Yes, I do hope one day to get back in the music business.
NUVO: Any final thought you want to leave for our readers?
Black: Keep listening, maybe one day it will be one of my songs you hear. You know, there are days when I write out a melody and I get so overjoyed with the groove that I jump right up and shout! [laughs]
NUVO: Well, I hope one day you’ll share one of those songs with the world. Mr. Black, I sincerely appreciate you taking time to share your story with us. It was an honor to speak with you.
Black: I thank you for having me.
I’d like to send out a huge thank you to Evan Black for making this interview possible.
By Kyle Long
on Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 10:50 AM
The Temptations performing at the Palladium in 2014
Otis Williams is the lone surviving founding member of The Temptations.
Williams was born in Texarkana, Texas in 1941, but his mother relocated the family to Detroit shortly after Williams’ birth. After scoring a regional hit in 1959 with his teenage group The Distants, Williams accepted an offer from Motown boss Berry Gordy to start working for his soon-to-be world famous label.
The Temptations were born in 1961 when The Distants joined forces with rival Detroit vocal group The Primes. And the rest, of course, is history.
Williams' band would go on to become one the most successful groups in music history, amassing an expansive catalog of beloved hits that few other groups can match. “My Girl,” “Get Ready,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Just My Imagination,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” are just a few of the universally adored records The Temptations cut.
And Otis Williams was there through it all.
For me, The Temptations’ classic work breaks down into two major categories: the wonderful Smokey Robinson love songs that defined the group’s career in the early 1960s; and the funky Norman Whitfield-penned message songs that propelled the group through the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I must admit I’m most partial to the latter, so when I had a chance to grill Williams’ on The Temptations’ work, I plied the music legend with scores of questions about The Temptations’ catalog of soulful protest music.
NUVO: I know you’ve played hundreds of gigs around the world during your career, and it’s probably impossible for you to keep track of all the shows you’ve done. But I did want to ask you about a couple of the earliest Temptations’ appearances in Indianapolis. I believe your debut performance here happened in 1964 at the Circle Theatre in Downtown Indy, where you performed alongside Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and other Motown greats on the Motortown Revue.
However, I was curious if you remembered your second time here in May of 1966 when you played at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The promoter of that concert sponsored a “Miss Temptation” contest, where the grand prize winner was awarded a free wig! It seems like there was a real festival atmosphere on those early tours and Motown reviews.
Otis Williams: Wow! [laughs] I don’t remember the wig thing, but we had a lot of fun in the concerts during the 1960s. I’ve been in this business for fifty-six years, I can’t remember everything that happened through that time. But it’s always wonderful coming to Indianapolis because we have great friends and fans there.
NUVO: Mr. Williams we have a short amount of time to talk today, so I wanted to jump straight into my favorite period of The Temptations’ work. In the late 60s The Temptations’ sound expanded beyond the traditional Motown R&B motifs into funk music, psychedelic rock and message-oriented lyrical content. This change was initiated in 1968 when the group recorded “Cloud Nine” with the visionary songwriter/producer Norman Whitfield. I’ve read that you were instrumental in pushing both Norman Whittled and your fellow Temptations into embracing these new sounds.
Williams: That’s correct. The Temptations were in New York City at the time and I was talking with my friend Kenny Gamble of Gamble and Huff. We were at the hotel talking and that’s where we first heard “Dance to the Music” by Sly and the Family Stone. I became obsessed with Sly and the Family Stone’s sound, and the uniqueness of it. When we flew back to Detroit I told Norman Whitfield about it.
At that time we were in a transitional period. Dennis Edwards entered the group, and we were letting David Ruffin go. After that transition Norman Whitfield came up with “Cloud Nine." That earned us our first Grammy, and also Motown’s first Grammy. That record changed our sound tremendously.
NUVO: You can certainly hear the Sly Stone influence on that record. But some of the records you made had a more overtly psychedelic rock sound than Sly’s productions did. There was a lot of very heavy acid rock guitar on some of your tacks. [Note: that’s partly due to the work of the great session guitarist Dennis Coffey.] I’m curious what you were listening to beyond Sly Stone that was influencing the group’s direction. Were you a fan of bands like The Beatles and some of the more experimental psychedelic music ensembles of the era?
Williams: You couldn’t avoid listening to psychedelic music and The Beatles at that time. The Beatles were bigger than life, you couldn’t help but listen to them. A lot of psychedelic rock groups were jumping on the scene then, like Jimi Hendrix and Iron Butterfly. We were hearing all of that, and we were part of that generation of sound.
NUVO: I know you came up in the era of doo-wop music, and smooth vocal harmonies. I’m curious if you personally enjoyed and related to the heavier rock sounds?
Williams: I enjoyed it. I am from the era of ballads and melodies and great lyrical content. But I’m appreciative of other forms of music and I did appreciate the heavier rock sounds. It was a great experience being part of that.
NUVO: The Temptations recorded so many incredible messages songs during this period. You made records commenting on everything from war, to poverty, to drug abuse, to consumerism, to dysfunctional family relationships. One of The Temptations’ most powerful message songs was Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s“Ball of Confusion” from 1970. It’s sad to say this, but when you hear the lyrics from “Ball of Confusion” now it’s still completely relevant to what’s going on in American society today.
“People moving out, people moving in
Why, because of the color of their skin
Run, run, run but you sure can't hide…
The sale of pills are at an all time high
Young folks walking round with their heads in the sky
The cities ablaze in the summer time…
Evolution, revolution, gun control, sound of soul
Shooting rockets to the moon, kids growing up too soon
Politicians say more taxes will solve everything
And the band played on”
Tell me about that song and how it feels singing it on stage now in light of all the difficult issues facing the world today.
Williams: It’s ironic that you should mention that, because every night when we perform “Ball of Confusion” I think, "Wow, this is a record that’s over 40-years-old and it is so relevant to what’s happening today.” It’s mind-boggling how ahead of time that song and Norman Whitfield were. On top of that, it was a hit record and it sold over a million copies.
NUVO: In 1969 you released the incredible LP Puzzle People which had powerful tracks like “Message From a Black Man” and “Slave." Puzzle People was one of the first overtly message oriented albums on Motown. It’s well-documented that Berry Gordy was reluctant to issue Marvin Gaye’s 1971 What’s Going On album. Did you have similar problems getting your more politically engaged music released?
Williams: No, we didn’t have any problems. We were on such a hot streak with Norman that Motown pretty much said leave Norman and The Temptations alone. We had made hit after hit after hit after hit with Norman. So Berry Gordy never tried to stop us.
NUVO: In 1970 you released another phenomenal LP Psychedelic Shack. On that album you recorded the original version of one of the most powerful anti-war anthems of all time “War," which incidentally was also written by Whitfield and Strong. A few months after the Temptations released “War," Edwin Starr recorded a scorching version of the tune for Motown. Starr’s version was a number one hit, and it became one of the most iconic protest songs of the Vietnam Era.
Was it difficult having Starr pull a hit record out from under your feet and watching him collect so much critical praise for “War”?
Williams: It wasn’t difficult for us. We’d had so many hits by that time, so we were happy to see Edwin Starr get a hit on “War”. Though we were the first to record “War”, Motown would always re-record things with other artists. That’s what they did with “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” which was recorded by both Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight and The Pips.
NUVO: The huge list of brilliant protest and message songs you recorded with The Temptations during this time is staggering to me. In addition to the songs I’ve already mentioned, we’re talking about tunes like “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)," “Stop The War Now," “Ain’t No Justice," “Law of the Land," "Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down," “Runaway Child," “1990" “Plastic Man” and so many others.
I’m curious what your views are on an artist’s role during times of social unrest?
Williams: An artist’s role is always to make great music that the people can identify with, relate to, and enjoy. Artists can be messengers of good faith just as much as a minister or politician can. A lot of times music can go places where politicians can’t go. A lot of times people who won’t pay any attention to a politician will listen to the message in music. We knew we had that kind of power through our music, so we always embraced doing whatever we could to reach out to our fans and the people listening to let them know what was happening.
NUVO: Was that important for you personally to have that outlet to express yourself on these issues?
Williams: Well, it was important to me to make good music. We started with our first big hit “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and then we transformed into doing the message songs. We more or less just wanted to make good music. But we appreciated that we were in a setting where we could express what we felt about the world and what was happening.
But we never wanted to be a group that would just browbeat our fans with messages, because after awhile that can turn into a negative. There are people who want to hear something about love rather than what’s happening in the world. All you got to do is turn on the news and you can hear enough about that. So we wanted to cross that bridge of being political to let the people know that there is hope in the world, and there is love — which is most important thing and the most needed. We tried to touch on all types of expression.
NUVO: So many, if not all of the songs I’ve been asking you about were composed by the late-great Norman Whitfield. Tell us about collaborating with Norman Whitfield.
Williams: Well, Norman and I grew up together. So I’d been knowing Norman since I was 19-years-old when we were all working at a tiny company called Northern Records. So to watch Norman come from Popcorn Wylie and The Mohawks to becoming one of the best producers in the world was just a wonderful transition. He and I worked together for a long time and we got along famously.
The day he left us I went to the hospital to see him and I sat and talked with him. It was great to know Norman. He could shoot pool, and to know Norman was to either love him or leave him alone — because Norman Whitfield was Norman Whitfield. He was a wonderful person and I can’t say anything negative about him.
NUVO: The work you and the Temptations did with Norman led to the creation and popularity of a genre many labeled psychedelic soul. How did you feel about that label and seeing bands like Funkadelic coming up in Detroit during the early ’70s?
Williams: I thought it was great. They were making funky music and expressing themselves and saying what they wanted to say through funk. It was a sign of the times. I just enjoyed all of it. You had Funkadelic and Parliament and so many other great things.
NUVO: Did you ever get a chance to work with George Clinton? I know the Temptations worked with the gifted Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel when you recorded his tune “Shakey Ground” in the mid ’70s.
Williams: No, I never got a chance to work with George Clinton. But we did record “Shakey Ground” with Eddie Hazel in 1975. The next thing I heard about Eddie Hazel after that was when he passed.
NUVO: Finally Mr. Williams, you’ve been working successfully in music for seven decades. You’ve toured the world and watched the music industry go through profound changes. I wanted to ask if you have any wisdom or advice you’d like to share with young musicians who are eager to devote their lives to this craft?
Williams: You have to be dedicated to it, and you got to remember it don’t come easy. You’ve got to pay a certain amount of dues and you can’t get discouraged. If you have the will, then sooner or later it will happen. So stay true to what you want to do and don’t let no one stand in your way.
I tell a lot of acts that when The Temptations started out there wasn’t any books to tell you about show business. Now if you go online you can buy all kinds of books to read up and educate yourself about show business. Now we’re talking about an industry that generates billions of dollars annually.
And also you have got to practice, practice, practice, practice.
NUVO: Mr. Williams, thank you for making time to speak with me. I’m a tremendous fan of all your work and It was a huge honor to speak with you.
By Kyle Long
on Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 7:00 AM
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?
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.
Classical music Indy brings chamber music to unconventional spaces
By Kyle Long
on Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 8:55 AM
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.
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.
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.
By Kyle Long
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.
By Kyle Long
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.
By Kyle Long
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.
"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.
By Kyle Long
on Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 12:04 PM
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.
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.
By Kyle Long
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.
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.
By Kyle Long
on Thu, May 26, 2016 at 8:00 AM
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.
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.