Category: Soul music

Remembering Don Cornelius: 'Soul Train' creator defined an era

Click for Don Cornelius' life in pictures

The news Wednesday morning that "Soul Train" creator Don Cornelius was found dead in Sherman Oaks, an apparent suicide, has brought an entire era of music rushing back. The Times' Andrew Blankstein writes that Cornelius died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Cornelius, the low-key influencer who helped deliver funk, soul and disco music into Saturday afternoon living rooms across America and helped prime the world for the impending hip-hop revolution, was one of the most important tastemakers of the 1970s -- and was a key purveyor of black pop culture on television. He not only broke artists and songs on a weekly basis, but showcased the amazing dance moves that were reacting to the music. 

2010 saw the release -- finally -- of a double-CD collection of "Soul Train" highlights, and the Times spoke with Cornelius about "Soul Train," its influence, and revisiting the era. "The '70s and '80s were just the period during which the best soul music was created and the best records were done," Cornelius told writer Jeff Weiss. "Whenever I walk into a store or any kind of environment, these kinds of songs from that period still play and I wonder if it's a 'Soul Train' tape. Because during those two decades, we were on top of them all in one way or another, either presenting the guests or playing the records. We were just flat-out in love with the music."

PHOTOS: Don Cornelius | 1936 - 2012

Cornelius also spoke about his initial reactions to hip-hop -- he was lukewarm at first, but soon enough started playing it -- and about his then-current plans to bring to life a film based on "Soul Train." 

"We've been in discussions with several people about getting a movie off the ground," he said. "It wouldn't be the 'Soul Train' dance show, it would be more of a biographical look at the project. It's going to be about some of the things that really happened on the show. I had a discussion with Eddie Murphy not long ago, and he liked the documentary so much that he suggested that he might want to do something in terms of the show's relationship with James Brown -- if not play him, than just do a kind of vignette."

Pop & Hiss will keep you updated on the sad news of Cornelius' death.

And then there's this, which says it all:



'Soul Train' creator dead in apparent suicide

Don Cornelius died of gunshot wound to the head

Don Cornelius discusses 'Soul Train' and its influence

-- Randall Roberts

Photo: Don Cornelius in 2006. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press

Download: Zebra's 'Christmas Morning' from 'In the Christmas Groove'

In the Christmas Groove Cover

Already exhausted by Christmas cheer? Does the thought of braving mall parking lots wreck your nerves to the point of popping valium? How many times have you heard Bing Crosby bray about a white Christmas before the 10th of December? Whether you're psychologically ruined by seasonal charm offensives, or if you just enjoy rare funk and soul from the 1970s, you'll probably love Strut Records' "In the Christmas Groove."

Over the last decade-plus, the British imprint has dedicated itself to excavating diamond clusters of rarely heard Afro-beat, calypso and funk. It has coaxed Ethiopian jazz legend Mulatu Astatke to make an album with the Heliocentrics. The imprint even released an album from the long-dormant Kid Creole and the Coconuts. For this, Strut deserves some sort of medal, or at least free mistletoe.

"In the Christmas Groove" is an antidote. It's for those exhausted by the same anesthetized canon of Christmas cuts. Largely culled from obscure 45 B-sides, most of the songs collected were ad hoc affairs. Loose and funky licks of inspiration intended to be heard by small regional clientele largely spread out through the South and Eastern seaboard. But there's everything from Elmo McKenzie's "Home on Christmas Day," released on the Bardados label, Trex, to blues fiend Jimmy Reed. There's the Harlem Children's Chorus and even the Black on White Affair's cover of "Auld Lang Syne" 

In honor of its imminent re-release, Pop & Hiss is offering Zebra's "Christmas Morning." Admittedly, it's a few weeks before Christmas, but if you're feeling festive but can't stand the usual saccharine anthems, this should solve your problems. Reedited by Sean Bonniwell, "Christmas Morning" sounds like the Zombies and the Kinks jamming with the Lafayette Afro-Rock band. It is ferocious, funky, and sounds even better than not having to visit your in-laws for Christmas. Best heard with chocolate milk and Pepperidge Farm cookies.


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Download: MP3: Zebra-"Christmas Morning (Sean Bonniwell Re-Edit)"

-- Jeff Weiss


Album review: Etta James' 'The Dreamer'

Album review: Etta James' 'The Dreamer'

Etta James’ health has been deteriorating in recent years, so as sad as the announcement is that “The Dreamer” is her final album as she retires from music, it isn’t a shock.

The songs on the 73-year-old R&B-blues-jazz singer’s first collection in five years have none of the overt swan-song character of the album Glen Campbell turned out earlier this year with the help of producer Julian Raymond. Instead, we get a career-twilight portrait of James and her darker-than-ever voice in a set of moody, bluesy and slow-jam groove numbers. One exception may be the chugging “Too Tired,” an up-tempo workout in which she nonetheless embodies the world-weary sentiment of the title.
Axl Rose is not a master of funk and blues, but after hearing James’ in-the-pocket treatment of Guns N’ Roses’ signature song, “Welcome to the Jungle,” he may be considered one of the genre’s noted songwriters.

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'Progress'? New Booker T. Jones video captures an evolving downtown Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles has been a trusty go-to character since Hollywood’s beginnings. Harold Lloyd dangled from a clock in the silent era, and Bunker Hill, in its pre-high-rise slum-ward glory, was a go-to setting for early noir films. More recently, “(500) Days of Summer” re-imagined Los Angeles as a fairy tale fantasy land and L.A. Noir immortalized the city as a video game playground.

Director Aaron Hymes, however, largely played the city straight for the video of Booker T. Jones’ “Progress,” a cut from his latest release for local indie Anti-, “The Road From Memphis.” Said Hymes via email, “As soon as I heard the track, it reminded me of the gritty and progressive vignettes from 'Sesame Street' in the late '70s."

Old-fashioned split screens and mirroring effects give the clip a vintage feel, but shots of downtown’s Gold Line train instantly make it clear that this is the present day. My Morning Jacket’s Jim James has the vocal lead, which promises better days are ahead, and the mood falls somewhere between resignation and hopefulness. Jones' unmistakable organ provides the emotional uplift, its tones perking up the midtempo, sylphlike groove. 

Though a few shots in the video stray from downtown to venture out to Long Beach, Hymes said 90% of the clip is Los Angeles. The neighborhood is still one marked by contrasts, at least on the surface, as upper-class lofts sit adjacent to Skid Row. Yet Hymes was attracted to what he saw as the area's social commitment to improvement. He doesn't, however, sugarcoat, as images of vacant storefronts and deserted, paint-chipped parking meters alternate with preserved historic sites and new investments in public transportation. 

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Unsung heroes: Ex-tribute artist Charles Bradley finds his own voice

A soul howler who’d been working construction and doing a James Brown tribute act began collaborating with Thomas Brenneck’s Menahan Street Band. Now comes a gig at the Echo. 

Once a touring member of Sharon Jones’ backing band the Dap-Kings, Thomas Brenneck now finds himself in the roles of guitarist, producer and curator. His Dunham Records, which is affiliated with the Dap-Kings’ Daptone Records, last year put out the first proper album from Charles Bradley, a 63-year-old soul howler whom Brenneck rescued from construction work and his role as a James Brown impersonator.

“You could tell he was just in this shell,” said Brenneck, who continues to work with the Dap-Kings in a studio-recording capacity. “He was a James Brown impersonator and he was dressing like him all the time, rocking a James Brown wig, full time. He had not found himself as an artist.”

About four years ago a collaboration between Brenneck’s own Menahan Street Band and Bradley started to take shape. “The music came, and then he slowly crawled out of his shell,” Brenneck said. “I think he’s finally casting off that James Brown mask. Even if he does do a James Brown spin or mannerism, he owns it now.”

And how many more people like Bradley — artists working in construction or cover acts — does Brenneck think are out there? “There’s more than we would think,” he said. “If you go down to Mississippi, probably eight out of every 10 people above 50 years old can out-sing everyone we know.”

Below, Brenneck picks some of his favorite lesser-known artists.  

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