Eddie James “Son” House (1902-1988) grew up around the Mississippi Delta, one of the homes of blues music. By his own account, as a “churchified” young man, he held the blues and other secular music in low regard. At the age of 25, he experienced a blues-related conversion and began a musical career.
His career was characteristic of bluesman of the time, which is to say not very lucrative. He served time in jail. He made a few recordings during the Depression. He was also recorded by Alan Lomax in 1941 and 1942. But much of his time can’t even be reconstructed with the historical record. The 1960s resurgence of interest in the blues, in particular the interest of white teenagers in Europe, made a lasting difference for the last quarter of his life and career.
Here he is singing his legendary “Death Letter Blues” in 1967, as part of the touring ensemble billed as “The American Folk Blues Festival.” This performance is preserved from its original broadcast on German television.
The music that resonated with the brown baby boomers of East L.A. is largely African American rhythm and blues music. It’s heavy on harmonies, on some interesting guitar work, and on a lot of soul. It’s the kind of music that was popularized in dance halls, and it sounds like slow dancing. End of the night slow dancing. Had too much to drink slow dancing.
There are many kinds of oldies, and many kinds of sounds that could legitimately count as “Chicano oldies.” My bias here are the slow songs, the ones I most associate with my youth and with East L.A.
5. “I Do Love You” (Billy Stewart)
This 1965 recording was Stewart’s first big hit. The harmonies and piano and guitar interplay make it one of my favorites. It’s certainly a classic from a man whose career was cut short at the age of 33.
4. “La La (Means I Love You)” (The Delfonics)
This 1968 song was the biggest hit for this Philadelphia-based quartet turned trio.
3. “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” (Barbara Lynn)
A guitar-playing, rhythm and blues-singing trailblazer, Lynn wrote and recorded this chart-topper in 1962.
2. “Daddy’s Home” (Shep and the Limelites)
Their first and last big hit, from 1961. Makes me think of the end of the night.
1. “Angel Baby” (Rosie and the Originals)
The 15-year old Rosie Hamlin (who was half Mexican) wrote this song as a poem to her then boyfriend. She recorded it with her friends in a San Diego studio, just for themselves. It ended up securing them a recording contract in 1960. It also ended up being their only hit. Such a vocal and guitar masterpiece.
What can the history of Latin@s in San Francisco teach us about the current crisis in the Mission? What can it teach us about the future of the city? The nation?
Come find out this Saturday, September 20th @ 2:00PM, at the Mission Branch Library, as I speak about the long history of Latin American-descent populations in San Francisco. Drawing from my book, Latinos at the Golden Gate, I hope to share my thoughts on the ways an understanding of this rich history is a necessary part of any inclusive future.
The event is the kick-off event of the ¡Viva! Celebracion of Hispanic Heritage Month, sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library. Musical group Los Leones will also be performing. And Modern Times bookstore will be there selling copies of the book!
I hope you can join me this Saturday! I feel honored to have been invited and am really looking forward to another opportunity to share my work with the community that is the focus of so much of it.
Huddie William Ledbetter (January 1888 or 1889-December 1949), better known as Lead Belly, was born and raised in Louisiana. He played the guitar at a young age, and attempted to make a living by playing it during his adult years, years spent mostly in Texas.
His career as a musician was regularly interrupted. Lead Belly was in and out of Southern jails, prisons, and labor camps for much of his adult life. He was convicted of attempted homicide in 1930 and sentenced to the infamous Angola Prison Farm in Loyisiana.
That’s where he was in 1933 when pioneering musicologist, archivist, and folklorist John Lomax, accompanied by his son Alan, visited “the Farm” to record African American musicians for posterity.
The Rolling Stones are the greatest rock band in the history of music. That’s it. Why? Here’s just five little reasons why…
Note: A lot of these clips won’t play on mobile devices. Sorry.
5. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)
It was their first #1 in the US and a standard at nearly every concert they’ve played since then. They’ve made it something of a show starter, at times.
4. “Paint It, Black” (1966)
From their album Aftermath, this song never fails to amaze.
3. “Sympathy For The Devil” (1968)
A song about the devil, part of their album Beggar’s Banquet (one of their best).
2. “Sister Morphine” (1971)
Written by Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Marianne Faithful, it was released by Faithfull a couple of years before it was part of the Stones’ legendary album Sticky Fingers (my favorite, if we’re picking).
1. “Gimme Shelter” (1969)
In 1969 the Beatles were breaking up. The spent part of their spring and summer recording their final album, Abbey Road. At about the same time, The Rolling Stones are in the studio making Let It Bleed. What a year for masterpieces. “Gimme Shelter” is the first track from that album.
Any list of songs by the Rolling Stones is selective. There’s no way to pick 5 songs, even 10, that represent the breadth of their work or that accurately portray their influence in popular music. So go listen to more!
Disney’s The Princess and the Frog (2009) is a “classic” in the Summers Sandoval household. It was the first movie my first two kids ever saw in a movie theater, and became part of our “regular rotation” in the spring of 2010 when the DVD came out.
You might be surprised to learn that relentlessly repetitive viewing has its perks. When the movie in question has some talent behind it (and this one does) you start to discover little bits here and there that would otherwise be missed. Some are clever, some funny, some dramatic and complex. In a movie paying homage to New Orleans jazz culture, some are downright educational.
I had never heard of Mr. Sidney Bechet (New Orleans, 1897-1959) until his name popped up in a lyric to the song “When I’m Human,” featured in the above movie. When I learned more about him, that ignorance became startling. Bechet is one of the fathers of New Orleans jazz. A contemporary of Louis Armstrong, Bechet was a virtuoso jazz saxophonist, known for his amazingly expressive solos. He also seemed to have lived quite a personal and professional life. A taste of his bio can be found at the website of The Sidney Bechet Society.
It’s sad that a Disney cartoon brought this music to my and my kids’ ears, but I’m glad something did. Here’s Bechet playing “Old Stack O’Lee Blues,” a recording from 1946.
When I started doing “Friday Fives” it was to write about music (I can always write when I have to write about music) and to share music I love with a younger generation who might not yet be familiar with it. It about time, then, that we talk about Marvin Gaye.
He was about as good as you get, and you could feel it. Smokey Robinson said it well when he suggested “the driving force behind Marvin Gaye’s immense talent was his pain.” Marvin felt it all, and he made you feel it to. From the pop-based, post-doo-wop stuff of his early career; to the stellar duets and soul inspired solos in the mid and late sixties; to his socially-conscious turn in the late sixties and seventies; and to his dirty, make you feel all kinds of hot in his later years, Marvin had the gift that is the heart of soul music. It was pain. It was joy. It was relief. It was hope.
That diversity and greatness make any list of 5 songs hard to stand in for the man. That said, between songs like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Sexual Healing,” “What’s Going On,” and “Let’s Get It On,” the most-well known and often-played of Marvin’s hits do a pretty good job.
With an eye toward the songs younger fans might not know, here’s my 5 picks:
5. “Your Precious Love” (1967)
Some of Gaye’s most enduring recordings are duets with Tammi Terrell of songs written by the team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, as is this 1967 gem.
4. “Trouble Man” (1972)
In the early 70s, fresh off the monumental success of What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye was about as big as it gets in R&B. He had fame, money, and full control. As a follow-up, he wrote the score and soundtrack to a “blacksploitation” film Trouble Man. Gaye sings and plays drums in this, the title track.
3. “Pride and Joy” (1963)
This early hit is a gospel song masquerading as a pop song. Martha and the Vandellas sing back up.
2. “Distant Lover” (1973)
From his bedroom album, Let’s Get It On, this live performance in Oakland 1974 is a beautiful example of the man’s work with a crowd.
1. “Got To Give It Up (Part 1)” (1977)
Despite being in regular rotation on my oldies stations, and reaching the top of the present-day charts courtesy of the outright theft of Robin Thicke, this song doesn’t get played nearly enough.