Recently, noted Jazzman, and my old friend, Brian Michel Bacchus challenged me to name the ten albums that have, over the years, influenced me the most. BMB and I go back to when records were still being manufactured on vinyl and sold in long forgotten places called record stores. We worked together, in the Jazz department, at Tower Records on 4th & Broadway. Brian went on to work for RCA, Island and Blue Note Records, where he discovered and signed Norah Jones. Most recently, he has produced two albums on Jazz breakout of the moment, the Grammy-winning, Gregory Porter.
Anyway, to pick your all time top ten influencers is, of course, an impossible task, since your mood and perspective (at least mine do) shift and change frequently. The best you can do is pick the ones that come to mind at the moment while knowing that they will change in an hour. In effort to rise to the challenge (at least there were no iced buckets of water involved) I chose these:
Al Jarreau – We Got By
Earth Wind & Fire – That’s The Way Of The World
Stevie Wonder – Innervisions
Curtis Mayfield – Superfly
Aretha Franklin – Young Gifted & Black
Herbie Hancock – Headhunters
Joni Mitchell – Mingus
A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory
Run/DMC – Raising Hell
John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman – Lush Life
Not a clinker in the bunch. My tastes in Jazz, Funk, Fusion, Soul and Hip Hop are all represented, and the list includes my five favorite recording artists of all time; Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Al Jarreau, Run/DMC and A Tribe Called Quest. Choice selections that span from my teens into my early thirties.
But then, a couple of things happened; a young friend requested that I share some of my knowledge of the Soul Music area with them, and I’ve spent the last two days reading the latest Walter Mosley, Easy Rawlins mystery “Rose Gold”. After I read one of Mosley’s tough guy Rawlins adventures, I often have a taste for Blues, Funk, and barbecue. The thrillers are set in working class Black Los Angeles and are infused with the homey, Southern vibe of the descendants of the immigrant population who brought Blues, Funk and Hip Hop to Cali.
These yearnings forced me to look back, go to Spotify and dig out one of my favorite recordings from one of my favorite bands, the eponymously named, Graham Central Station. Unfortunately, my top ten list didn’t have room for the greasy, churchy, bluesy funkiness of Larry Graham’s tight knit group., but it is one of my undeniable favorites from my formative period.
After having spent several years as a sideman and contributor to Sly & the Family Stone, Graham broke out and started his own thing in the fall of ’73. The album contained a couple of covers of Anne Peebles and Al Green tunes and the Funk workout “Tell Me What It Is”. For those of you who know Graham as a Black Pop crooner who smashed with “One In A Million” it may be instructive to hear his first joint. For those who don’t know him at all, enjoy. It don’t get much funkier than this.