This space was to be taken over for a brief moment by The Epicurean, Jayson Jackson. As a guest blogger, he was due to bring you the final filing of The Rock The Bells Chronicles. A look at the ol skool tour from the perspective of community, travel, food, friends and music.
The last date on the American tour played Seattle, Washington. I did not attend but The Ep did. Technical difficulties beyond his control have kept him from the web with his flavorful observations. We anxiously await the resolution of his issues. ‘Til then, I will humbly try and continue The Plugged In series.
Wolf Blitzer is on the tube prodding, “the best political team in television” to give deeper meaning to the shameful end the, “straight talk express” is coming to.
In the face of a 14% lead by Sen. Obama, former POW Navy man and Republican standard bearer, Sen. John McCain is letting the irony of a Republican expressing concern over voter registration fraud elude him. He seems to have lost the plot.
I’ve not paid much attention to the accusations, counter attacks, insinuations and lies that have marred the last few days of the campaign. I’ve been turned off by the campaigning. I’m ready for the electing and the governing. It’ll be interesting to see Democrats control both houses and the executive branch simultaneously.
While all of this has been going on, I’ve been working on piecing together a feature length documentary that celebrates an important milestone in hip hop. The package isn’t complete yet. No further details are available at this time.
While getting in the mindset for the project, I’ve been immersed in music, film and magazines. I read a piece on Paul Newman that appeared in last month’s Vanity Fair. I re-watched his turn as an alcoholic attorney on a losing streak in The Verdict. I watched Factory Girl, the biopic of, “it girl” and Warhol muse, Edie Sedgewick.
I culled the You Tube archives and listened to Slave, Cameo, Bernard Wright, Jane Child, Wrex ‘n Effect, Weather Report, Al Jarreau and others. I laced a few citizens of Soul City with e-mailed files of my choices. I found some strong Marvin Gaye cuts on the i-Pod.
I’ve been having rich conversations with fellow creative types about art and culture. I’d also spoken with a friend who just likes to keep it hot.
She’s been on the arena tour circuit lately and has seen a couple of headliners from the eighties and nineties that can still fill basketball arenas. This had both of us looking back and the subjects of R & B legacy group, Levert and my old friends, The Beastie Boys came up.
My friend was laboring under the impression that Levert’s ’87 smash Casanova was an obscure record by the group. She felt that not many people had heard or knew the record. I differed. I don’t know it could be generational.
The record was the biggest of the group’s career and wound up at no. 4 on Billboard’s Pop chart. Super producers, The Calloway brothers (Midnight Star) incorporated a go go rhythm under the romantic growling of Gerald Levert and scored big.
Go go is the indigenous DC party groove that was practiced by groups like, Rare Essence, Trouble Funk, Redd Hott and Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers.
I knew this already, because I have something of a personal history with Levert. Two thirds of the group were made up by the late brothers, Sean and Gerald Levert. Both of them were sons of Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame legend, Eddie Levert, lead singer of The O’Jays. The last major label the O’Jays recorded for was EMI Records. During their stint there, I was their A & R man. I essentially rubber stamped whatever the group wanted and we came up with a top 10 R & B single called Somebody Else Will.
I loved the group as a kid and was honored to be involved with the guys who’d recorded Love Train, Back Stabbers, I Love Music, Give The People What They Want, Brandy, Stairway To Heaven and the rest of their platinum output. I loved rubbing up against that much history.
Giant Records, the label that I’d previously done A & R for, gave me the opportunity to work directly with Levert. Three years after the smash release, Casanova caused so much damage, I hired them to participate on the soundtrack of the crack thriller, New Jack City.
They appeared on screen with Troop and sang a medley of Stevie Wonder’s Living For The City and the O’Jays’ classic For The Love Of Money. On the actual CD, Queen Latifah joined them and spit a bit of lava on the track.
Gerald went on to become a solo star in his own right, which eventually broke the group up. He died unexpectedly a few years ago. Sean never achieved the solo success of his brother or father and wandered on the dark side until his untimely death.
The question about which one of The Beasties had married, Ione Skye was asked. Ad Rock was the answer. As the first head of promotion at Def Jam, I worked the band’s first 12″ release and have known many of their wives and girlfriends.
I’d been very social with Def Jam founders Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons. Club hopping and after hours provided our bonding experience. Our favorite hangout was The Roxy. If show biz is high school with money then The Roxy was the cafeteria. All of the hip hop playas of note congregated there.
THE CAFETERIA CIRCA ’83-’86
I saw The Beasties do their first live show as a rap crew at the Roxy. They rocked sweat suits and doo rags. Fortunately a more authentic fashion sense took hold in their later years.
All of this film, music, history and conversation took me back to another meeting that I’d had in The Roxy in early ’84.
At the time, Def Jam was a production deal that was distributed through Arthur Baker’s Streetwise Label. Arthur had been a disco producer that I’d met while in college in Boston. He’d found an independent investor, started a label and signed, Boston’s New Edition. At the time, he was flush with cash.
Rick Rubin was a college student at NYU with a lot of energy. He’d discovered and signed Boogie Down based MC, T-La Rock. He cut a dangerously edgy street anthem called It’s Yours on Mr. La Rock and caught the attention of the rap world.
The 12″ single sold 80,000 copies. Mostly along the eastern seaboard. Baker wasn’t in the mood to pay Rubin or La Rock their royalties and stiffed them.
Not one to be easily discouraged, Rubin partnered with Simmons on a newly reorganized and independently distributed, Def Jam Recordings and signed LL Cool J. They released I Need A Beat and history was made.
While all of this was going down The Roxy had lost some steam. The Euro trash scenesters that had been so enamored of this emerging movement had moved on. In their place? A more hard core rap fan had begun to frequent the club, along with die hard young execs trying to keep pace with the quickly changing scene.
Sometime in the winter of ’83-84, I was there making my usual Friday night appearance. There was a tall, balding, middle aged white man with glasses in the place to be. A guy named, David McLeod.
I introduced myself and asked if he was a writer.
“No, a film producer.” He answered.
“Anything I may have seen?” I replied.
“Heaven Can Wait.”
“So you’re cool with Warren Beatty huh?
“We’ve worked together.”
With the impertinence of a youngster I said, “You can’t possibly be still living off of those royalties. You done anything lately?”
Amused, he answered, “Reds.”
So I say, “Oh, you and Warren Beatty are reeeel tight huh?”
I then took the opportunity to express my belief that Beatty was not taken too seriously by the film establishment at that time, and that his matinee idol looks obscured his gifts. I loved his stuff. The world was filled with possibility. I was 24 in a rap club.
McLeod was impressed with my understanding of Beatty’s positioning in the culture and asked me if he ever needed some music for a film, could I be of some help. I told him of course I could.
Before we exchanged numbers and I made my way up to the VIP lounge he asked, “Why’d you introduce yourself?”
I told him, “You’re a middle aged white man in a rap club. I figured that you were with, Newsweek.”
A few weeks passed and David called from LA. He was working on something and he might want some rap to play in it.
I saw David and his youngest son, Donnie around campus quite a bit over the next couple of years. At The Apollo for a Doug E. Fresh show. In Providence at Run/DMC’s Raising Hell Tour. Donnie, at the legendary chain snatching fest spot, Union Square at a Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince gig.
Finally, in the winter of ’86 David told me that he had a film that he was working on and asked if I could drop by his production offices to see some footage.
He and his partner, Beatty were working on two films that year. One was a Molly Ringwald/Robert Downey Jr. starrer called The Pick Up Artist. The other, a Beatty, Dustin Hoffman disaster called Ishtar.
David wanted the rap music for a sequence in The Pick Up Artist. In the film, after picking Ringwald up using mad game, Downey Jr. drives her to Central park for a little mid day back seat action. After the wham bam, mam says thank you and bounces. She then decides not to give him her name.
Open after their encounter, our hero follows her through the streets and trains all the way to Coney Island. Where she lives with her alcoholic and degenerate gambler father, Dennis Hopper.
McLeod wanted my recommendation for music for the scene. The Beasties were the hottest thing in the country at the time. Def Jam had ceased to be an independently distributed label and had struck a deal with the then CBS Records.
The Beasties Licensed To Ill was the second LP released on the label and went on to sell 4 million units. They’d been on tour for most of ’86 with a new group, Public Enemy opening for them.
I’d moved on to Select Records but was still very much in the Def Jam mix. I’d heard License to Ill from the demo stages, so I informed McLeod that a cut called She’s Crafty was perfect for the sequence.
The producer asked could I arrange for a deal for the track. I knew the manager pretty well. At the time, they were represented by Simmons’ RUSH Productions.
During a brief break from touring, I arranged to bring the band to the Beatty/McLeod offices for a meeting.
The meeting was at the Brill building. The site of many rock and roll era song publishing companies and now a home for film post production facilities and offices.
THE BRILL BUILDING THE ’50’s TUNE FACTORY
I was nervous, I had a check riding on the outcome. Ad Rock was a bit rambunctious, he kept interrupting and asking, “When can I meet Molly Ringwald?”
Now me. I’m from the school that dictates that you get the check, then you ask about the girls.
McLeod was about to turn the lights down and show the sequence in question when, Beatty walks in with one of the great American directors, Hal Ashby.
Ashby had directed, Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid in The Last Detail, Beatty in Shampoo and Peter Sellers in Being There – he was the goods.
McLeod asked me to introduce everybody, after he made the joke that you just never know who you’re gonna run into around here.
The legends left and we showed the footage to the band. They decided that they didn’t want any part of it. I was crushed. I left disheartened at the result but pleased to have met Ashby and Beatty in a work environment.
Several weeks later, I got a call from McLeod. Apparently he and Ringwald decided to take a trip to, New Orleans to see a Beasties’ show. Ad Rock and Ringwald hit it off. They decide to collaborate. My choice of She’s Crafty was more appropriate than I’d thought.
Ad Rock and Molly were an item for a while. The cafeteria had moved south a few blocks to Nells. The spot that really began to mix hip hop, fashion, film and business people and treat us all the same. I ran into The King Ad Rock and he thanked me for playing a roll in getting him together with Ringwald.
The film itself was somewhat forgettable. The first 20 minutes are a hilarious look at the life of a young player who lives with his grandmother. The rest of the film is a mish mash of gangsters and gambling. Not one of James Toback’s best efforts.
Vanessa Williams made her screen debut in the picture. Downey Jr. was charming. Dennis Hopper was making a comeback and convincingly played the first of many drunks that would comprise most of his work from that period. Ringwald’s best work was already behind her.
McLeod had a run in with the law, left the country and was found dead near some train tracks in Canada. Beatty’s disappointment in him is discussed in the book Beatty: A Private Man.
Ashby died of a heart attack and never directed again after the day we met.
The Beasties kept illing and rocking.
I got a check. 10 % of The Beastie’s participation. Thanks to Rush. And oh yeah, I got my first on screen film credit. After the end credits crawl by there are 5 names that are given special thanks. There’s me, three others and Stevie Wonder. The end credit theme is the smash Casanova by Levert.