Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2011

1563113851a9265257856l

NILE RODGERS & MADONNA

The night that I saw Madonna perform at the Paradise Garage, was the second time I’d seen her do her thing. I’d caught her earlier that year at a three-quarters empty Roxy on 18 Street- downtown Hip Hop central in mid ’80s Manhattan, and the scene of a weekly bohemian party that Afrikka Bambata presided over. Her performance of “Like A Virgin” at the Garage didn’t quite connect with me, and at that time, it was unclear that this would be the record that would break her out of the clubs for good and turn her into a worldwide arena attraction- after all, you had to see the video to fully understand her appeal. It was also unclear at the time (to me) that the co-founder of CHIC had produced the record. She performed the song to track while wearing lingerie and writhing on a four-poster bed. The audience seemed to like it.

I heard the first CHIC single in what must have been late ’77. The smash “Dance, Dance, Dance” was wrecking havoc at every house party or jam that I attended in Soul City. Disco had a grip on the game, and I was not that into the genre. I’d been steeped in the soul, funk and jazz that had been the roots of the somewhat sanitized sound that was all the rage. Bands like Earth Wind & Fire; Kool & The Gang, War and Mandrill who’d been able to coexist peaceably on Black FM outlets along with the productions of Philadelphia’s Gamble and Huff were altering their grooves to fit in. A marketplace filled with leaders was littered with the bodies of followers. Shit was corny.

Chic-Chic

THE DEBUT

But there was some different flavor about this CHIC record. The first and most noticeable thing was the torrid bass playing of the late Bernard Edwards, and the almost militaristic approach of the female vocalists exhorting you to “Dance, Dance Dance” on the chorus. The other thing was the way the strings and horns locked up. They were bigger, and more cinematic than anything else going on at the time. It was as though you were dancing to a funky orchestra and the singers were shouting at you. At the time, I liked it but I didn’t take it very seriously I thought that it was a novelty record. Unbeknownst to me, Nile Rodgers, the guitar player and Edwards, who had written and produced the record together were at the beginning of establishing themselves as the two guys who would best define and most transcend the disco era

Eventually, Nile Rodgers and I became friends. Like me, he was a regular on the New York club scene in the ’80s and ’90s. We became friends while hanging out at the old show biz cafeteria, Nell’s around ’86 or ’87 on Manhattan’s 14th Street- it was the place to be for anyone who was anyone in music, film, fashion, sports, media or any other hustle at the time. I was an up and coming record man and he was simply the man. Because of his work with CHIC, he became responsible for the dominant sound of the New York of my youth, a white-hot town where funkiness spilled out of radios, rebellious DJs stole power from Con Ed, threw parties in any spaces they could find, and clubs and club goers held a special place in the life of “The City”.

Chic+Main2

CHIC
His productions were numerous, and massive. His groove brought David Bowie & Diana Ross back to prominence, provided a viable launching pad for Luther Vandross, gave Sister Sledge their most memorable tracks, made Duran Duran serious and as I previously detailed, broke Madonna worldwide. Along with Edwards, he created the most valuable thing that a producer can have-a signature sound.

Combined with the imaging and fashion forward styling of the band, the music perfectly represented the inner desire of a people who had been excluded from economic equality, and began to assert their need for greater access and top shelf consumer goods. It was the sound of champagne nights, hot designer gear, entrance beyond the velvet rope, flashing lights and the promise of glamour. Listeners to CHIC records acknowledged that there was a possibility of an attainable high life.

In the late ’90s, both Diddy and Will Smith smashed using CHIC produced samples: Diddy over Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” with “Mo Money Mo Problems” and Smith over Sister Sledge’s “The Greatest Dancer” on “Get Jiggy With It” giving Nile a publishing windfall that resulted in still more lucrative years to come. I asked him if he felt any particular resentment of the Harlem born Diddy’s copping a page from his playbook with the fashion and music. He replied slyly, “Why? I got it from Cab Calloway.”

nrcom-showcase_boxsetvol1

THE BOX

In tribute to his genre bending, and era defining sound, Nile has compiled a 46 track box set that documents the output of the band and some of the key outside projects that they worked on: Nile Rodgers Presents: The CHIC Organization BoxSet Vol 1: Savoir Faire. Nile’s solo production work on Mick Jagger, Madonna, Duran Duran, Grace Jones, Gil Scott-Heron and David Bowie isn’t represented. Nor is Edwards work with the Power Station or Robert Palmer, but there are many examples of the lean muscular sound that defined the best of CHIC’S work.

CHIC stalwart, Fonzi Thornton steps out of the background, and takes a lead on the infectious remix of “I Work For A Living” from the soundtrack of the forgettable “Soup For One”. Included from the same soundtrack, are “Why” by Carly Simon, and the funky title track by the band itself. Former lead singer, Norma Jean can be heard on the rare club classic “High Society”. Three previously unreleased tracks by Johnny Mathis are here as well as “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” from Diana Ross. The anthemic “We Are Family”; “Lost In Music” and the silky smooth “Thinking Of You” by Sister Sledge can be found here too.

diana_ross_deluxe_edition

All the big CHIC singles are featured including, “My Forbidden Lover”; “CHIC Cheer”; “My Feet Keep Dancing”; “Rebels Are We” and “Le Freak”. Many of the important album tracks can be heard too. My personal favorite “Open Up” from “The Real People” album isn’t included but it doesn’t detract from the project’s overall greatness. The box isn’t available domestically but can be ordered online through Amazon.com. My old friend was gracious enough to send me a copy. Through following his Facebook page, I was able to learn that through a round the clock effort, last year, he had compiled this special project for his fans. He has also completed a memoir that should be published this year.

I also learned one more thing through following his online social presence: my old friend has what he describes as “aggressive Cancer”. He uses his blog, his Twitter account and Facebook page to inform us daily of his fight for a return to optimum health. The reports inspire and give insight into the heroic character of the most important record producer to ever come from New York. I am happy to be able to listen to this collection and to remember all the nights in the VIP section. Get well soon my friend. There are more good times ahead.

insideplaya

Read Full Post »

The “Chief Rocker” Frankie Crocker, the envelope pushing PD, got caught up in dance music in the mid to late ’70s, and turned New York’s WBLS-FM into a more cosmopolitan radio station by playing a few too many European produced imports. Notably, he broke Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby” and launched the disco era in earnest.

Many things happened as a result of that decision, but the overall effect on Crocker was this: his programming propelled WBLS to the number 1 radio station in New York across all demographics, and day parts. And as has been previously documented elsewhere in this blog: he had trouble with authority, and was eventually hired and fired at least as many times as Billy Martin was by the Yankees. It was a hot media story, and it made for interesting listening but in the early winter of ’83, he was in pocket, and on fire.

Always the visionary, he used his clout to organize a black tie event at the Savoy- the world famous venue where Rufus & Chaka Khan recorded three live sides of their double album “Stompin’ At The Savoy”- the set that contained a studio recorded fourth side and featured the band’s last great single: the smash, “Ain’t Nobody”. Additionally, the great Duke Ellington, and Count Basie orchestras wowed patrons there two generations previously.

savoy-ballroom-marquee-worlds-finest-1

THE PLACE TO BE

The ocassion was the taping of Frankie Crocker’s Big Apple Awards- a TV show that was a forerunner of the Soul Train and BET Awards, and the music industry showed up in force to dance to Frankie’s tune. The list was A all the way; Hall & Oates, George Benson, Earth Wind & Fire, James “D-Train” Williams, Luther, The Time, Vanity 6, Quincy and so on. Everybody who’d had a hot joint on the station in recent memory, with the exception of, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye was in effect.

The playa was in the place to be, and arrived early. At the time, I was keeping office hours at Soul City’s legendary diskery, Sugar Hill Records. The label had had a string of hot releases to it’s credit, but the previous summer, we’d turned the heat up and smashed by releasing “The Message” by Grand Master Flash and The Furious 5- the record that signaled rap’s emergence as a serious art form. As the label’s National Director of College Promotion, I was responsible for getting the younguns involved. I was successful in my assignment, and was rewarded with a ticket to the event. I donned a tux, and mingled.

When I walked into the lobby, posted up at the bar were two bona fide legends; Nile Rodgers and David Bowie in white dinner jackets; both of them looking like James Bond before an evening a the Baccarat table in Monte Carlo. I was young but bold, and I walked up to the bar, stood next to them, and ordered, “whatever they’re having”. They both looked at me in a slightly quizzical, and bemused fashion that seemed to ask; “who is this kid?” It was cool, I definitely knew who they were. Especially Nile.

6330_241266590157_702095157_7954534_8015001_n

RODGERS & BOWIE

I have often said that Black Music is a river that flows on and on. There have been many tributaries, but the one that flowed from Nile Rodgers was a river unto itself. For the uninitiated, Nile was a founding member of the greatest and most influential band that disco produced, CHIC. And along with his partner, the late Bernard Edwards, he comprised the production team that wrote and produced “We Are Family”; “Lost In Music” and “The Greatest Dancer” for Sister Sledge, “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross and “Chic Cheer”; “Everybody Dance”; “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Le Freak” for his own band.

As a solo producer, Nile was responsible for writing, producing and or mixing songs for Grace Jones, Duran Duran, Bryan Ferry, Carly Simon, Johnny Mathis, Mick Jagger, The B-52s, Debbie Harry, David Bowie and Madonna. Because of Crocker’s support. Nile’s sound was the most pervasive of any of the New York based producers of my late teens and into my mid twenties. His sound was essentially the bridge between the disco/funk era and early hip hop, and he was a damn funky guitar player to boot.

He was a rare breed indeed: a Black Man who emerged from the ultra segregated music business of the ’70s, and the similarly designed radio industry to become a true pop power player and guitar hero. He was the most heralded international musical figure to come out of the ’70s New York club scene, and because he co-wrote, and co-produced the seminal classic, “Good Times” he was personally responsible for creating what may have been the most important musical passage of the disco era: the nearly 3 minute instrumental break in the record that simultaneously ended disco, and launched the rap business. This was the music that served as the backing track for the game changing “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang.

Chic -1979 - Risque

R-216384-1172189173

The next time I saw Nile was in the Spring of the following year. I was getting off of work from a Greenwich Village record shop and by chance, I was invited to a birthday party at the Paradise Garage for both New York artist, Keith Haring and the house DJ, Larry Levan. Larry was in rare form, and blazed it. Always in good company, Nile was escorting Diana Ross. There was a performance too, a young, up and coming Madonna performed to track, and sang the record that would make her a worldwide icon, the Nile Rodgers produced, “Like A Virgin” that she would release the following fall.

insideplaya

to be continued….

Read Full Post »

George Jackson & Doug McHenry

GEORGE JACKSON & DOUG McHENRY

In October of ’90, Teddy Riley celebrated his 25th birthday aboard a yacht in the Pacific Ocean. The playa was in attendance, but the boat almost left without me because earlier that day, I’d been a guest of George Jackson’s at a private screening of New Jack City on the Warner Brothers lot, and getting from Burbank back to my Sunset Blvd hotel and to the marina was no joke. After first hearing about the project over two years earlier, reading the script, selecting the music for 6 months, and listening to George go on about how he was going to change the game once his picture came out, I was ready to see the movie, and I prayed that he hadn’t turned Barry Michael Cooper’s brilliant script into Krush Groove Goes Uptown. He hadn’t.

The rough cut of the film that I viewed that day made my skin tingle in the same way it does on a gambler when they have placed a big bet knowing that their card is about to be turned over and they are about to walk away with the house’s money in their pocket. While using Cooper’s words as the paints, and the performances as the brushes, director Mario Van Peebles created a colorful picture of the world of the uptown crack king, Nino Brown. In a career making role, Wesley Snipes gave a performance filled with slickness, anger and venom. Ice-T played against type as an undercover cop. And the comic voice of our generation, Chris Rock had a memorable turn as Pookie the pathetically hooked crackhead.

Two record producers joined me at the screening, and later on the yacht; Dr. Freeze who had shook up the game the previous year with Poison, a smash he’d written and produced for BBD, and Stanley Brown a friend of Run/DMC’s Jam Master jay who was coming off a blazer with Keith Sweat. Like me, they were blown away by the movie.

The party was over, and we docked but the night was just getting started. Soul City nightlife overlord, Brad Johnson was holding sway over the LA club scene with Roxbury, a joint that he ran on Sunset. The VIP room was packed that night, and I had two young ladies meet me. The three of us found ourselves in the company of my old friend Nile Rodgers, and a friend of his, Herbie Hancock. The champagne was cold, and the music was hot. I was in a celebratory mood.

We closed the spot, and got ourselves invited to Herbie’s for a nightcap. The head honcho of Warner Brothers Black Music operation, Benny Medina joined us too. While standing around Herbie’s pool we discussed the issues confronting funk, soul and jazz at the time. Nile asked the playa’s advice on whether he should produce a record on Lionel Ritchie or not. I cautioned him by telling him that Bill Withers would be a better fit. We missed Bill, and his sorrowful songs of joy, pain and woe were statements for and to his people. By comparison I stumbled, “Lionel Ritchie was just making, just making….”.

“…he was just making records,” said Herbie as he finished my sentence.

HERBIE HANCOCK & NILE RODGERS

HERBIE HANCOCK & NILE RODGERS

BILL WITHERS

BILL WITHERS (the people’s choice)

The sun was rising, and I had get out of town. Earlier in the day, I’d turned down an offer of a ride back to New York from Azoff on the Warner jet. The playa had to go to Oklahoma to see Giant’s blue eyed new jack swingers, Color Me Badd. The plan was to introduce them to Stanley Brown and Freeze for the purpose of getting tracks for their forthcoming album and maybe a track for the New Jack City soundtrack.

I was still buzzing on the previous evening’s festivities, and glamour as well as the knowledge that I was about to drop a smash on the game. Brown, Freeze and I caught a flight before 7:00 AM that got us into Oklahoma in the late morning. We were met at the airport, and driven to the group’s studio. There was a couch in the lobby so I decided to shut it down for a minute. I sent out for a bag of Wendy’s and waited. Stanley Brown was playing a keyboard in the studio, and working with the group on trying to find an appropriate key. He was sketching out ideas. Freeze pulled out a cassette, and proceeded to change history.

I’d first heard of Dr. Freeze in ’88. There were whispers surrounding him that he might have some of the same heat that was coming off of Teddy Riley at the time. I soon found out that there was some truth to the buzz. I was in Philly in the fall of ’89, and I was working as a promotion man for Wing Records while covering the 8th anniversary show for WUSL-FM. Philadelphia’s Urban powerhouse outlet. An artist on Wing, Sharon Bryant was asked to appear on the gig so I was escorting her to it. Later, after the show, I was catching a late night cheese steak with Philly flavor man Hiram Hicks, and Motown’s East Coast Regional rep, Deidre Tate. Hicks had been the road manager for New Edition, and had earned the opportunity to manage the NE spinoff group, BBD.

While we were eating in Hicks’ four door Benz, I asked if he had any music to play on his new group. Deidre Tate said, “Play Poison.” My blood started to rush, and my heart raced. Hicks had a smash. Freeze was the goods. I never forgot it.

When Freeze put his cassette in he played a track that featured a sample from CHIC’S Real People album. I said, “That was my favorite track off of the album.”

He said, “You know your records, huh?”

“A little,” I replied.

DR. FREEZE

FREEZE

Some how he was reassured, and played another demo altogether. The intro featured a Slick Rick sample from the underground classic La-Di-Da-Di. I immediately sat up. He had my full attention. “Wait,” I shouted, “play that shit again!” He complied, and rocked a completed demo on what would arguably be the most important record release of the following year, I Wanna Sex You Up!! I got goosebumps.

Two days later, I was in my office at 729 Seventh Ave. I made copies of the cassette, and sent one each to George Jackson, Irving Azoff and my department head. I also played it for my label mate, and friend Brian Koppelman. His office was next door to mine, and I sensed that I had a pop smash on my hands so I wanted him to weigh in with his impressions. Brian had grown up in the music business, and while he was in college he’d discovered Tracy Chapman.

I called Jackson, and said, “George, I have the record that will send us through the roof with the soundtrack, and I know just where it should it play in the movie!” Jackson knew I was telling the truth.

I Wanna Sex You Up went top 5 in 12 countries. Places where I still haven’t been, and I don’t speak the languages. It powered the New Jack City soundtrack to 5 million units sold in the US, and Color Me Badd’s debut to 6 million sold. The soundtrack played on radio across the nation from the winter of ’91 well into the following fall, and contributed to making Ice-T and Wesley Snipes stars. For my first time out of the gate, I’d picked a winner, and as I’d told Azoff in ’89, I’d launched Giant into the Black Music business. Color Me Badd was nominated as one of the 5 Best New Artists by the Grammys the following year- they lost to Boyz II Men.

In the wake of massive success credit must be assigned. I was much better at, and more interested in, understanding the mechanics of making and breaking records, than I was at acquiring status. I didn’t understand then that it was more than status, it was power. The power to make further creative decisions and to create economic opportunity for myself, and others.

People with creativity don’t often get into the same room with people with money and the skills that are required to fight your way into the the game from being an airline stewardess are not necessarily the same ones that will allow you to launch labels. I was shown the door.

My friend Brian Koppelman witnessed most of this from his position at the company. His father had launched a successful startup label around the same time we started, and was named Chairman of Capitol//EMI North America. Brian facilitated an introduction, and was responsible for me joining the A&R staff of a newly organized EMI. I went on to discover and sign D’Angelo but that’s a story for another time.

insideplaya

for Nille, Brian and George RIP

Read Full Post »

Late ’89 found me working records to radio on the east coast. I was responsible for securing airplay from Virginia to Rochester for Wing Records. The label founder,  Ed Eckstein formed the Wing imprint with the Polygram Label Group. The roster was a cool mix of Black Pop and New Jack that featured Vanessa Williams and Tony Toni Tone.

Ed had spent nearly a decade and a half in the employ of Quincy Jones during Q’s historic run of smashes that included his work with the King Of Pop. After that he spent a couple of years doing A&R for Clive Davis at Arista that yielded little but frustration so he jumped at the chance to call his own shots when Polygram came calling.

The label was headquartered in LA, and Eckstein needed steady airplay access on the eastern seaboard so the playa was recruited. We blew up nearly a dozen singles and a couple of albums together, set Vanessa Williams and Tony Toni Tone’s Raphael Saadiq off on paths that they are still on over twenty years later and quickly got hot in a competitive environment. Ed had ears.

Working Black Pop records with melody and strong lyrics completed nearly a decade of “carrying” records for me. I’d impacted the arcs of hot Hip Hop joints, independent labels, new producers and neophyte acts that I’d had a hand in breaking, and it finally began to payoff. I was invited into the A&R fraternity by a startup label with deep pockets, international distribution and no roster. I was in the game.

vanessa_williams_tvlandawards_6_nc

VANESSA WILLIAMS

Raphael Sadiqq

RAPHAEL SAADIQ

Irving Azoff had been the chairman of MCA Records and left at the end of the ’80s to create Giant Records with the backing of Warner Brothers Records. When I was invited to join his venture, I’d been seasoned through time served in radio, retail and records. I joined  Giant in early ’90, and I knew a hit when I heard one.

As I’d previously written, George Jackson and Doug Mc Henry had the Barry Michael Cooper penned, New Jack City set up at Warner Brother films, and as was the common practice of the day, had the soundtrack rights assigned to Warner Brothers Records. The subject matter for the film called for the direction of the soundtrack music to be Urban.

Benny Medina, the head honcho over Warner’s Black Music operation was set to do his thing with the record- when he was too slow to return one phone call too many of Jackson’s. Frustrated with what he perceived to be Medina’s indifference, Jackson, ever the operator, called Azoff, and had the record assigned to my department. History was about to be made.

My department head had prepared for a career in music by serving in the traditional entertainment preparatory role of an airline stewardess. Through this launching pad, she’d met and married the brother/manager of an important Black Pop vocalist. When addictive behavior derailed the relationship of the brother and the vocalist, the former stewardess became the new manager, and hitched her wagon to a star. She was an industrial strength networker and parlayed her client’s success into a high visibility post at Giant as well as relationships with several prominent industry leaders. She’d been engaged to a close friend of the playa’s and through that, identified him as a comer.

Irving Azoff

IRVING AZOFF

All through the spring, summer and fall of ’90, blood sweat and tears were mustered to get the New Jack City music “right”. A staff member at Andre Harrell’s Uptown/MCA imprint forwarded a demo on blue eyed new jack swingers, Color Me Badd. Keith Sweat played a finished song for the playa at Sidney Miller’s Black Radio Exclusive convention in New Orleans. Johnny Gill was approached to contribute after he scorched a midnight performance at that year’s Jack The Rapper radio confab in Atlanta. Guy was slated to appear in the film, and their performance made the record. Troop, Levert and Queen Latifah turned in a stirring rendition of Stevie Wonder’s Living For The City mashed up with the O’Jays’ For The Love Of Money. Al B. Sure! produced a track on his high school friends F.S. effect. A friend from Sugar Hill Records, the great Grandmaster Flash laced us with a dope track from female MC Essense. Stanley Brown, a protege of Run/DMC’s Jam Master Jay blessed Christopher Williams (who had a role in the film) with a funky uptempo track that made the record. By the fall of ’90, the record was shaping up nicely, but I needed something more.

insideplaya

to be continued….

Read Full Post »

I have grown up with disdain for bureaucracies and the operatives who have been invested with the power to maintain them. The short sighted narrow mindedness that is required to hold on to positions in these small spheres of influence is antithetical to the vision that is necessary to build, dream and grow in a creative environment. Ultimately, they not only make it difficult to create quality content, but to make history. Unfortunately, the historic documentation of some of the small moments that have led to great events has been left to small figures who are products of this mindset, and thus we are often left with a revisionist view of history.

I am currently working as a music supervisor on the documentary Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. The film has been entered into the documentary competition of the Sundance Film Festival, and has been passionately and insightfully directed by the journeyman character actor Michael Rapaport. Internet buzz has reported a somewhat contentious atmosphere surrounding the project but all concerned parties are currently pleased with the most recent cut. The race is on to clear the music in time for the competition and I’m working with a team to get this done. I have worked in the area of music for film before and it feels good to be back.

Mike Rap

MIKE RAP

Tribe

TRIBE

I have been a friend, and advisor to Tribe for far longer than my memory can recall, and they have been my favorite Hip Hop band for years with my old friends Run/DMC running a very close second. I will always have a warm spot in my heart for Run and ’em because it was through the first hand exposure that I received observing their ascent and working in the studio with them on much of their historic Raising Hell sessions that I gained valuable insight into the record making process. Through their tutelage, and the experience that I gained as a promotion executive, I acquired an overall view and understanding of the entertainment industry and the profile necessary to become an impact playa.

As a result of earning this profile, I became an A & R man where I ran afoul of less talented and mediocre managers with little if any ability outside of their penchants for self promotion and fanciful lying. My first real shot at making records went well for my employers, and horribly for me in terms of improving my material circumstances. But it did establish me as a more than credible creative executive. Most of the credit for the benefit that I experienced can be attributed to one guy.

George Jackson was a rare animal in the late ’80s- he was both a black Ivy League grad with a degree from Harvard University, and a Hollywood producer with political clout who had been raised in Harlem. He’d run Richard Pryor’s production shingle, and been involved with Quincy Jones’ film production endeavors too. I met him in ’84 while he was putting together the deal for the cinematic confusion known as “Krush Groove”- the misguided attempt to capitalize on the heat surrounding the rap game that was a fictionalized account of the beginnings of the NYU based start up, Def Jam Recordings. I am an old friend of one of the founders of the label, and by the spring of the following year, I would be named, and briefly serve as the first head of promotion for the company. My all too brief tenure coincided with the end of preproduction, casting and principal photography of the film.

Later, George would also be involved with a film set in the world of Go Go, the DC based funk idiom that he’d gotten the legendary Chris Blackwell to release through his Island film distribution arm. Somehow, he’d also weaseled his way into the mix of another flick on the Island release slate called She’s Gotta Have It- a comedic look at sex that was the first film directed by Spike Lee. George was an operator.

SPIKE LEE

SPIKE LEE

George called me in ’88 or ’89 to pick my brain about a project he was working on about a Harlem based crack overlord for Warner Brothers Pictures. He asked what I though about the subject matter, and whether or not, I was hip to a journalist named Barry Michael Cooper who at the time, was covering two beats with distinction: the New York hip hop music industry and the nationally emerging crack trade. Cooper pioneered the coverage of both worlds with a keen eye for detail and an ear for dialogue. He also saw the parallels between both the thirst for fame in the crack entrepreneurs, and the ruthlessness of the young record execs building hip hop empires. As a result, he wrote a defining piece for the Village Voice about the genius production prodigy, Teddy Riley who because of his representation, had a foot in both worlds. In that article, Cooper coined the phrase that described the sound of the era: “new jack swing”.

At the time of Jackson’s call, I was an independent promotion executive working NY retail, clubs and radio for several clients/labels producing hot 12″ single releases aimed at the Black teen, and young adult market. These labels had enough taste to sign cool records, but insufficient juice to get them on the radio. By creating a groundswell for these records, I was making a comfortable living providing the needed access to turntables to DJ booths in hot clubs, in store play and the all important radio exposure that could determine the economic outcome of not only the single, but the album, and the careers of the label executives, producers, managers and artists involved.

One of the records that benefited from my juice was Woppit by B-Phats- the first credited production by Teddy Riley. The record along with his uncredited production on The Show by Doug E. Fresh and The Get Fresh Crew, that started the New Jack Swing movement.

People who make a living in the young adult and teen area’s of pop culture are very research driven. A guy who rents jets to high net worth individuals rents one to a young pop vocal group and is curious about how such a young bunch of guys that he’s never heard of can afford one of his planes. He asks a cousin in the industry, and decides to catch a show. The guy witnesses a New Kids On The Block show, and smells money falling out of people’s pockets. He then decides to put a couple of similar acts together, and thus, the Backstreet Boys, and N’Sync are born. A guy who has success with a standup vocal harmony group decides that he could increase his revenue streams if the group was white. He can’t do anything about that, so the creator of New Edition starts New Kids On The Block. And on, and on…

It’s no different for filmmakers. They are constantly looking to shoot material that has a preexisting following. When George Jackson saw the way the crack trade was ravaging inner city Black America in the ’80s, and people were getting rich from it, and that the Iran Contra hearings that featured Oliver North began to link CIA operations with the distribution of guns and drugs in the hood, in no time at all, he began to look for a story and a story teller. The aforementioned Mr. Copper is a story teller with prodigious talents. Barry Michael Cooper wrote the landmark screenplay for New Jack City, and George Jackson along with his partner Doug McHenry produced the film. The scion of the father of blaxploitaion, Mario Van Peebles directed it, and I was the key creative music executive on the project.

Irving Azoff is unquestionably the most powerful man in the music business. He chairs the board of directors for the entertainment behemoth, Live Nation. He controls acts, tours, venues and merchandising. He has been a titan in music and entertainment since the seventies. He was the chairman of the now defunct MCA Records during a hot streak they had in the ’80s, and at the end of the decade, he departed to form his own label. He struck a deal with Warner Brothers Records, and created a total service imprint called Giant Records. I was one of the first 8 executives hired to the label.

After a smooth as butter interview with Irving, where I was hired in about 20 minutes, I asked to have our relationship clarified with Warners. Irving described them as our partners. I was encouraged by his answer, and so, I went on to detail my understanding that Warners had an extremely exciting script in development, and that if we were to gain control of the potential soundtrack to this project, we would have a vehicle to launch us in the Black Music business. He picked up the phone and called the then Warner’s potentate, Mo Ostin. The former back room accountant who with the backing of Frank Sinatra had built Warners into the most important music company in the world. Under his watch, his company recorded both Prince, and Madonna. It was late ’89.

insideplaya

to be continued…

Read Full Post »

THE ARTIST AT WORK

In Boston spring comes slowly, and 1979 was no exception. I was a 19 year old freshman at Northeastern University when the winter thaw was prematurely induced by the release of a slice of disco funk, on Motown’s Gordy label called “I’m Just A Sucker For Your Love”. The track featured the high pitched, P-Funk influenced backing vocals that were popular at the time, the familiar, playful and husky lead of Rick James and a brash and soulful performance by a newcomer named Teena Marie. I didn’t realize then that this would be the debut of Motown’s last great act.

I had been indifferent to James’ recordings, as well as a good deal of what was passing for commercial music at the time. Disco had sucked up most of the budgets at both the major, and important independent recording companies. As a result of this trend, I’d immersed myself in the jazz/funk fusion area and the recordings of various George Clinton backed acts. Looking back, like many of my generation (without knowing it) I was waiting for hip hop to come and bring the soul back to the game. But I connected with the newcomer’s vocal instantly and bought the album. A somewhat forgettable collection with the same title of a big Kool and The Gang joint called “Wild and Peaceful”.

Despite the overall thinness of the material, there were two outstanding tracks included; “Deja Vu”- a soulful contemplation on reincarnation, and “I’m Gonna Have My Cake and Eat It Too”- a jazzy funky mid-tempo swinger that revealed Teena’s ability to communicate sensuality through her music. She got me with the last one and never let me go.

News of her death last week was stunning, like so many across the Black Music community, it caused deep pain. How could a heart so big ever stop beating? How could the singer/writer/producer of “Square Biz” “Behind The Groove” “I Need Your Lovin’ ” “Ooh La La” and “Lovergirl” be gone? I immediately began to listen to recordings from her Motown period, and let the music begin to wash over my soul with it’s healing properties.

Her name had been coming up recently in conversations with a good friend who’d made plans to move from New York to LA and start all over again as Teena’s housemate. The friend has had as much of New York as she can stand, and she was prepared to trade the hustle, noise and chaos of Funkytown for the serenity of Pasadena, Ca., closeness to her only child and the comfort of living with one of the most soulful artists/writer/performers that the American recording business has produced in my lifetime. I applauded my friend’s courage to begin anew, and felt certain that the daily exposure to such greatness would get her back on track, and then, the news came: the Vanilla Child was gone, and there would be no new soaring vocal performances, funky tracks or thumping bass lines. Rest In Peace, Mary Christine Brockert. Thanks for the memories.

insideplaya

for Jill

Read Full Post »