A new day has come. Not without pain, struggle, bloodshed, sacrfice and loss but a new day none the less. The election of America’s first Black president presents us with an opportunity to give props to those who came before in order to make it possible.
The civil rights movement inspired others to pursue social justice. As a result of southern Blacks pursuit of the franchise, equal protection under the law and access to public accomodations. Women, students, migrant workers and anti war activists lifted their voices in protest of the status quo.
Students were seizing control of campuses all over the country, some were murdered. Organizers went missing. Non violent women and juveniles were subjected to hosing and dogs while trying to gain access to, “whites only” facilities. Women burned bras to demonstrate their desire for equal pay for an equal day’s work. The most unpopular war in the history of the country raged. Political assassination spilled the blood of martyred leaders.
All of this turmoil inspired music to protest by. Dylan, Hendrix, Coltrane, Sly, James Brown, Joan Baez, The Beatles and others all provided the soundtrack for revolution. They all sang and played songs of social conciousness and made an indelible mark on history.
While all of this was happening, one small independent record company dominated US radio, Motown. Berry Gordy’s little diskery that could, provided an outlet for a stable of artists, producers and writers that captured the attention of the world and Pop- ularized the Sound Of Young America. The Isley Brothers, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Ashford & Simpson, Holland, Dozier, Holland, Norman Whitfield, Lionel Ritchie, The Mizell Brothers and Ed Townsend all wrote, sang and performed what would become to be known as the Motown sound.
The new Raphael Saadiq cd, The Way I See It is a tribute to the sound of that time and is undoubtedly the best collection of songs that he has recorded in the generation that he’s spent in the music business.
I met Saadiq when he was fronting the 80’s new jack trio, Tony Toni Tone. I was the east coast director of promotion for the label that he was signed to. Due to the combination of the group’s hit makng ability and my presence in the Urban music community, their singles slid on to radio with the quickness. The first album went gold, the second platinum and the third one smashed and contained the classic, Anniversary.
I got hot along with them and broke out of the promotion ranks and into the A & R area. Four years after our initial success together, I was the senior A & R exec at EMI Records. I put Raphael with D’Angelo and they came up with the gold single from D’s debut, Lady.
They went on and continued to work together. Untitled (How Does It Feel) another co-production by the duo, from D’s Voodoo cd smashed. Saadiq went on to work with many others including; The Roots, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Q-Tip and Joss Stone. His band, Lucy Pearl featuring, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Dawn Robinson yielded, I Want To Dance Tonight, a new millenium ditty that burnred dance floors up.
I was listening to his new project late Monday night, as I was preparing for the new era that would begin in a few short hours and to file this blog. I was suddenly gripped by emotion when I realized just how dope his jawn is. So I called him. It was 3:45 am EST.
I wanted to know how he got the lead vocals so compressed and what he did to make them sound so similar to Motown’s recordings of the 60’s. I needed to know what magic he used to replicate the authenticity of the guitar sounds. I was in that dreaded place that record men go when they need to know.
He answered and was happy to hear from me.
“So how’d you get the guitars to sound so real Ray?”
Laughingly he responded, “It was just something that we talked about for a really long time. We sorta got lucky.”
“You look like (the late Temptations lead vocalist) David Ruffin with the skinny tie and the glasses on the artwork.”
“You know that I’ve always loved clothes. It looks like there are a few others rocking the glasses now. No worries though, we’re all Black men trying to do it.”
I asked about two stand out tracks in particular, Just One Kiss featuring Joss Stone and, Never Give You Up featuring a new Saadiq discovery, the Ray Parker Jr influenced, CJ Hilton and a delightfully mournful, Stevie Wonder harmonica solo. “Is Just One Kiss going to be a single? You sound crazy with Joss. It reminds me of The Intuders’ Cowboys To Girls.”
“It’s gonna have to find it’s own audience. I like it too though.”
“The jawn with Stevie on it is the best thing on the project. He’s killing it on the harmonica.”
“I’d always wanted to work with Stevie. It was an honor.”
We talked a bit about the new music business. Ray had dropped a Grammy nominated collection of songs called, New Vintage back in ’02 on Universal. He’d invited me to hear the entire project at his studio in Burbank. As I recall, I thought that it was dope. Memorably, the project contained a spirtual duet with T-Boz called, Changing Times. Ray fell into a political battle with the head of Black music and got himself released. He released his next two studio recordings independently. New Vintage under performed. The label exec is currently lableless.
“Did you learn anything from the experience you had the last time you were with the majors?”
“There’s too much coonin up in this shit right now. And I’m not wit it. I’m fortunate that Rick Rubin took over Columbia. The guy who signed me got fired and usually when that happens, nobody wants to stick their neck out for you. All these muthafuckas got houses and shit to pay for. Rick was different, he came to my studio listened to the project and then quietly got up and said thank you for playing your record for me. It’s great.”
I’d have to agree.