Thanks to PILE and Bad History Month for a stellar weekend. Thanks to Nick Dooley and Leanne Bowes for being such badass bandmates!
My band (Yazan) is playing two sure-to-be bangers of a show in December:
Saturday 2 Dec at King Killer Studios (Brooklyn) come see High Pony, one of my favorite Brooklyn bands and help celebrate the release of their debut LP Seen a Change. Also playing is Two Inch Astronaut, one of the most amazing bands I have ever seen. A $5 admission gets you beer and a copy of the LP. What a deal!
Saturday 9 Dec at the newly re-opened Market Hotel (Brooklyn) I’ll be playing with my full band opening for some of the greatest acts in the Northeast: the mighty PILE and Bad History Month. Two of my absolute favorite artists of all time! Get your tickets here, this show will likely sell out!
February came and went, and I managed a few posts about some of the Black American artists I love and have been inspired by, but there are so many more. Black Americans in general deserve greater recognition for their contributions to this country’s abundant wealth and culture, so Black History Month continues for me.
I discovered Belton Sutherland, a generally unknown blues player, in the music documentary The Land Where Blues Began (1979, dir Alan Lomax) (watch it here for free). I bought a DVD of it after seeing that my great blues idol RL Burnside had a few performances in it.
All of the performances in the film by various artists are remarkable in their own way, but something about Belton stirred me deeply. He was not a professional artist, just a man hardened by a punishing existence, expressing some dark and heavy blues — maybe the heaviest I have ever heard from a country blues performer. His lyrics are brutal — “Kill that old gray mule / burn that white man’s barn / I didn’t mean no trouble, I didn’t mean no harm”. This is folk music of a systematically oppressed and impoverished person.
He looked so badass too, with a cigarette barely hanging off his lip and his cold stare. Back in 2010-2011 when I was just starting to learn to play and sing in a country blues style, I dreamed that I could be that bad some day. So, I ended up buying a 1938 Gibson L-50 archtop guitar on eBay that looked just like his, and that’s the main acoustic guitar I still use today. I am still nowhere near as bad as he was though, and will probably never be (I’m cool with that).
James Brown is the greatest performer of his generation: energetic, theatrical, uniquely idiosyncratic, and musically groundbreaking. I got obsessed in high school with his music, though it was only after YouTube that I got to really check out what one of his performances (and interviews) was like. The only performer in my mind to take it to the next level was Prince — more on him from me this week.
Even though he recorded only about 30 songs in his life, he was the first preacher to make blues records and influenced everyone to come along afterwards. Years ago, I spent a whole drive from Asheville, NC to Memphis, TN singing along to this song to try to learn how to inflect like he does. I’m still working on it…
I walked miles through the snow today to be interviewed by the very real and very gracious Sheri Barclay. “The things I’ll do for self-promotion!” We also premiere one of my yet unheard, unreleased tracks, called “Do You Wanna Go?” Listen here:
Back in summer 2004, I was in an office working for the City of New York, and I remember sitting on my chair at my desk, under a blanket trying to insulate from the extreme air conditioning in the building, and this tune came on in my headphones and it was the first time I’d really listened closely to the singing towards the end of the tune, and I just started crying uncontrollably, right there in front of everyone. I still get choked up listening to Eddie’s beautiful voice.
Son House is a country blues player whose slide playing style I have ripped off plenty, but so did Robert Johnson and just about everyone else since who plays slide guitar.
The musical mind of Sly Stone demonstrates a beautiful balance. His monstrous band serves music that is harmonically rich and supremely funky at the same time. The diversity of his material and his band are hugely inspirational — someday when I have a family band, my kids and I will be singing “Thank You” in harmony. Sly was marginalized after succumbing to addiction, but he has recovered somewhat, and is still alive and has wisdom to offer — check out his more recent interviews on YouTube. Thank YOU Sly Stone!
This post is part of a series where I pay tribute to the numerous Black American artists that have inspired and influenced me over the years.