What Bob Dylan Learned From Soul
"I'd sure like to sing like that, too"
This essay originally appeared as part of a longer essay in Best American Music Writing 2003.
“Our attachment to it”—Amiri Baraka says in The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones—“one deep definition of who we are and where we think we are going.”
Deeply defining. The shape of a world. The complex connections within that world.
“But you really”—Gertrude Stein writes in “To Americans,” the conclusion to Brewsie and Willie—”have to learn to express complication.” You have to learn how to express complication and go easy, “and if you can’t go easy go as easy as you can.”
“And they’ll lay you down low in the easy”: the opening of “Glad Tidings,” the final song on Van Morrison’s Moondance.
So now, you go and you be easy, just go easy, be easy, down into the easy now, be easy, be as easy as you can.
In P.M. Magazine, March 11, 1945, Richard Wright reviewed Stein’s Wars I Have Seen. “But, you might ask, why do I, a Negro, read the allegedly unreadable books of Gertrude Stein? It’s all very simple, innocent even.” He stumbled on Stein’s work, Wright said, “without the guidance of those critics who hint darkly of ‘the shock of recognition.'” Prompted by random curiosity while browsing one day in a Chicago public library, he took a tiny volume called Three Lives from the shelves and looked at a story in it entitled “Melanctha.” “The style was so insistent and original and sang so quaintly that I took the book home.” As he read it, his ears were “opened for the first time to the magic of the spoken word. I began to hear the speech of my grandmother, who spoke a deep, pure, Negro dialect and with whom I had lived for many years.” Told that Stein’s tortured verbalisms were throttling the revolution, Wright gathered a group of semiliterate black stockyard workers—”‘basic proletarians with the instinct for revolution’ (am I quoting right?)”—into a basement and read “Melanctha” out loud to them. They understood, said Wright, every word. “Enthralled, they slapped their thighs, howled, laughed, stomped, and interrupted me constantly to comment on the characters.”
Baraka: “We know people by what moves them, what they use as background sounds for their lives, whatever they seem to be. We are talking about feeling and thought, emotion, aesthetics, and philosophy (and science).”
Feeling. Thought. Emotion. Aesthetics. Philosophy. Science. The instinct for form and technique. The instinct for a formal and a technical revolution.
“By the 1960s Middle Eastern and Indian rhythms, scales, instruments, and time signatures were making wide inroads in modem jazz, but in 1957 Lateef was clearly a pioneer in this regard,” Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert note in Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit, 1920-60 (certain to be a classic). Born Bill Evans in 1920, changing his name after he became a follower of the Ahmadiyya Islamic movement, Yusef Lateef first became interested in Middle Eastern music while he was working in a factory. “I realized I had to widen my canvas of expression,” Lateef told Jim Gallert in an interview, “Meet the Artist,” at the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival on September 6, 1999. “I spent many hours in the library on Woodward studying the music of other cultures. At this time I was also working at Chrysler’s. I met a man from Syria and he asked me if I knew about the rabat. He made me a rabat and Ernie Farrow played it on the recording. I was looking to widen my expression and made bamboo flutes on my own.”
Nat Hentoff, in Downbeat, January 9, 1957: Detroit had become “a spawning ground . . . for modern jazz. Their blowing here is primarily of a low flame, conversational kind. They fuse and pulse well together with the rhythm section, a finely knit, flowing texture of full-sounding but not overbearing momentum.” The Detroit style, according to Roland Hanna, “tells a story. You hear other pianists running notes and changes. But a musician from Detroit makes an effort to arrive at his own story and tell it in his music.”
“Woodward Avenue. Big parades. The library, the museum”—Saeeda Latee writes on the jacket of Yusef Lateef’s Detroit: Latitude 42 30—Longitude 83—”the Toddle House—BEST pecan waffles; cheap . . . Paradise Theatre . . . The old Mirror Ballroom . . . World Stage . . . New Music Society . . . Detroit Symphony . . . Latitude.” “Woodward Avenue,” one of my favorite tunes on that recording—”Woodward Avenue,” and “Belle Isle,” and a version of “That Lucky Old Sun”—and oh yes, I almost forgot: “Eastern Market.”
“When I was ten years old, I used to go to that Toddle House on Woodward and Palmer. My father and my uncle owned a store on John R., a one-way street that ran downtown, one block east of Woodward. If, from the Toddle House, you walked one block east on Palmer to John R., then one block up, there, on the southeast corner of John R. and Hendrie, was Joseph’s Market. “The latter half of the 1940s,” note Bjorn and Gallert, “saw the development of the ‘Street of Music’ in two blocks of John R., between Forest and Canfield” (nine to ten blocks south of Hendie). There’s a photograph of the store from that time. Above it, a billboard, “CHEVROLET,” with a two-tone-silver-and-white, ’57 Chevrolet, “filled with spirit and splendor!” “JOSEPH’S MARKET. MON. WED. THUR. 9 TO 9. FRI. SAT. 9 TO 11.” “YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD GROCER SINCE 1935 FREE PARKING AROUND THE CORNER.” “5770 JOHN R.” “BEER. WINE.” “DETROIT PACKAGE LIQUOR DEALER.” “BAR B. Q. TO TAKE OUT. RIBS. CHICKEN. PEPSI COLA.” I’d walk to the Toddle House for lunch. For less than a dollar you could buy a hamburger, BEST fried potatoes, a Coke.
On the corner of the “Street of Music” and Canfield was a “show bar,” the Flame. “Detroit’s premier venue in the 1940s for black musical entertainment had been the Paradise Theatre”—Bjorn and Gallert relate—”but with the opening of the Flame in 1949 and the closing of the Paradise in November 1951, the action moved over to the Flame.” The Flame was a solid testing ground for black entertainers who wanted to cross over to an adult mass audience. It was similar to the Paradise in presenting top national acts, but it also gave some room for local talent. “Berry Gordy’s sister Gwen”—Bjorn and Gallert continue—”had the photo concession at the Flame with camera assistance from her sister Anna and two other brothers in the darkroom.” Among the top national acts: Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Billy Eckstine (“Jelly, Jelly, Star”), Sara Vaughan, Erroll Gamer. Local talent: Pella Reese, Jackie Wilson, Little Willie John, Hank Ballard.
Della Reese, quoted in Arnold Shaw’s The Rockin’ 50s: “The Flame was the place to be. In Detroit, in an area of five to six blocks, there wasn’t one without spots of live entertainment. Friday and Saturday nights were get-up-and-go nights, get dressed and go out. But every night was nightclub night. The Flame was the hottest spot in town. The Flame was letting your hair down.”
“The Flame was a continuous show, right through the night,” Johnny Ray told Shaw. Ray was “the only white guy” who appeared there, but, as far as the club was concerned, the scene was black and tan. The Flame’s house band, led by Maurice King, backed Ray on his first two records. Ray’s next tune, “Cry,” was a number-one hit on both the pop and R&B charts. Many listeners, hearing “Cry” on the radio, assumed that Ray was black. During live performances of the song, Ray, in the middle of singing, would break down in sobs. A band member would come to his aid, helping him back onto his feet.
“I always wanted to be a guitar player and a singer,” Bob Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth in 1941, says in the notes to his Biograph collection. “Since I was ten, 11, or 12, it was all that interested me. That was the only thing that I did that meant anything, really.” “Henrietta” was the first rock and roll record he remembers hearing. Before that he listened a lot to Hank Williams and, before that, Johnny Ray. “He was the first singer whose voice and style, I guess, I totally fell in love with. There was just some thing about the way he sang [the opening to ‘Cry’] ‘When your sweetheart sends a letter’ that just knocked me out. I loved his style, and wanted to dress like him, too.”
On November 22, 1980, at the Fox Warfield Theater in San Francisco, Dylan told the audience that across the lake from Duluth is a town called Detroit. When he was around 12, he happened to go to Detroit with a friend of his who had relatives there. Though he couldn’t remember how, he found himself in a bingo parlor, where, he said, people came to eat and to dance to a dance band. Where he was from, said Dylan, he’d heard mostly country music—Hank Williams, Hank Snow, “all the Hanks”—but the first time that he was face to face with rhythm and blues was in Detroit. He then broke into a wailing gospel rendition of Little Willie John’s “Fever.”
Baraka: “Flame itself has different colors. The old blues, spirituals, quartets, and rhythm and blues, the jazz and bebop plus the multicolored pop, the identifiable American flying object.”
My father, I remember, pulled the car over to the curb on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park—in the background Henry Ford’s original assembly plant, used already as a warehouse—a July Sunday afternoon, the sky absorbed by a solid red sun, and told me to listen, to listen closely—he played with the radio dial to get the sound as clear as he could-listen to how beautiful the voice was in the song that was playing: Dinah Washington’s rendition of”Harbor Lights.” “I’ve been writing songs since I was six years old,” William “Smokey” Robinson told Bill Dahl for a December 10, 1993, article, “Going to a Go-Go with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles,” in Goldmine. “My mom and my two sisters played a lot of Sarah Vaughan. I heard all kinds of music in my house. Mostly Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, people like that.” Sarah Vaughan, Robinson said, was “probably my favorite vocalist out of all of them. She used to cry her songs. She was like an instrument to me. She just did things with her voice that only she and Ella could do.” (Robinson’s playmates included the Motor City’s first family of gospel, the Franklin’s-sisters Aretha, Carolyn and Erma among them . . . By the time he was in fifth grade, Robinson was writing songs and singing songs regularly, forming a vocal quartet in junior high school that included Aretha’s brother, Cecil Franklin.) When he was 11 or 12, Robinson became interested more, he said,”in what they termed then as the R&B music and rock and roll kind of sound.” He had five idols: Clyde McPhatter, Nolan Strong, Frankie Lymon, Sam Cooke, and Jackie Wilson. (Prime examples of the R&B rock and roll kind of sound at the time were Nolan Strong and the Diablos’ local hit “Mind Over Matter” and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ top-of-the-charts “Work with Me, Annie.” Ballard also wrote, and with the Midnighters recorded, “Finger Poppin’ Time,” and, later, “The Twist,” covered by Chubby Checker.) The “greatest idol” he ever had “as far as an entertainer,” Robinson told Dahl, was Jackie Wilson. “The other guys could sing, but Jackie could sing and dance and entertain.
Replacing Clyde McPhatter, who had followed Billy Ward as lead vocalist of the Dominoes, Wilson (who credited gospel singers as the main influences on his style) helped shape the doo-wop vocal group tradition in which McPhatter had been a pioneer. Wilson’s first record, “Reet Petite,” was written by Berry Gordy, Gordy’s sister Gwen, and Tyran Carlo. “Reet Petite” never showed on the R&B charts, but went pop, selling a quarter of a million 45s. In To Be Loved (the title of Jackie Wilson’s first number-one hit, which Gordy also wrote), Gordy tells how, in 1953, he opened, in the Gordy family’s building on Farnsworth and St. Antoine (eight or so blocks from Joseph’s Market), the 3-D Record Mart. At first, Gordy said, he sold only jazz recordings, but, as time went on, more and more blues. “I finally had to admit to myself blues was in my soul,” he said. This probably stemmed from his early exposure to gospel. “There was an honesty about it. It was just as pure and real as jazz. In fact, jazz had its roots in the blues.” Ironically, he said, the simplicity that he’d rejected in the blues was the very thing that people related to. Bjorn and Gallert: “Wilson’s recordings of ‘Reet Petite’ and ‘To Be Loved’ gave Gordy a name, and singers started coming to him for material. One of them was singer/songwriter Smokey Robinson, who was the seventeen-year-old leader of the Matadors (later the Miracles).”
In his liner notes to Detroit Blues—The Early 1950s (which includes John Lee Hooker’s ”House Rent Boogie”), Paul Oliver defines the Detroit blues style. “Often [the Detroit blues musicians] play with strong piano blues and boogie players who—from the days of Will Ezell and Charlie Spand, through to Big Maceo and Floyd Taylor, to Boogie Woogie Red or Bob Thurman—have been a strong feature in Detroit blues.” Drums also feature prominently in Detroit—”socking, hard-hitting, played by a Tom Whitehead, or in primitive imitation by a Washboard Willie.” A number of guitarists, like Eddie Kirkland and Eddie Bums, double on harmonica, and can play the organ too, “weaving in with the sax players, who play a bigger part in Detroit blues than in that of Chicago.” This·complexity of instrumentation, played against steady-beat rhythms, gave birth to “a smoother, more sophisticated music where the instrumental lines were carried by vocal groups against similar rhythm back grounds, and which borrowed freely from the gospel idioms which also form an important part of the Detroit musical scene.”
Bjorn and Gallert: “Gordy decided to form his own record company, and with an 800 dollar loan from his family, Tamla was born in January 1959.” In his November 7, 1959, column in the Michigan Chronicle, Bill Lane observed that Gordy was “the first Negro in the city to open a recording studio of any noticeable consequence” when he purchased the former Gene LeVett photo building on West Grand Boulevard. Bjorn and Gallert: “Gordy christened the new headquarters Hitsville USA and his increased control over the production, distribution, and marketing of music led to a steady flow of hits. Motown’s first number-one R&B hit was the Miracles’ ‘Shop Around’ in 1960, and the first number one pop hit was the Marvelettes’ ‘Please Mr. Postman’ in 1961. The Motown organization grew rapidly and eventually became the largest black-owned enterprise in the nation.”
Berry Gordy: “The ‘feel’ was usually the first thing I’d go for. After locking in the drumbeat, I’d hum a line for each musician to start. Once we got going, we’d usually ad lib all over the place until we got the groove I wanted. Many of these guys came from a jazz background. I understood their instincts to turn things around to their liking, but I also knew what I wanted to hear—commercially. So when they went too far, I’d stop them and stress, ‘We gotta get back to the funk—stay in that groove.”‘ Gordy would make it, he said, as plain as possible. “I would extend my arms a certain distance apart, saying, ‘I want to stay between here and there. Do whatever you want but stay in that range—in the pocket.’ But between ‘here and there’ they did all kinds of stuff—always pushing me to the limit and beyond.”
William James (with whom both W.E.B. Du Bois and Gertrude Stein studied philosophy at Harvard): “When I say ‘Soul,’ you need not take me in the ontological sense unless you prefer to.” Soul? “Only a succession of fields of consciousness: yet there is found in each field a part, or subfield, which figures as focal and contains the excitement, and from which, as from a center, the aim seems to be taken. Talking of this part”—James continues—”we involuntarily apply words of perspective to distinguish it from the rest, words like ‘here,’ ‘this,’ ‘now,’ ‘mine’ or ‘me.'” To the other parts are ascribed “the positions ‘there,’ ‘then,’ ‘that,’ ‘her,’ ‘his,’ ‘it,’ ‘not me.”‘ But, says James, “a ‘here’ can change to a ‘there,’ and ‘there’ become a ‘here,’ and what was ‘mine’ and what was ‘not mine’ change their places.” What brings such changes about? The way in which the emotional excitement alters.
There: the funk, the groove. Here: in the pocket.
Are you ready?
“When the beat gets the feel, it’s hard to get parted”—”you got yours and I got mine”: “Monkey Time,” written by Chicago’s Curtis Mayfield, sung by Major Lance.
“Mickey’s Monkey,” written by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland, sung by the Miracles. “When the people see the dancing they begin to sing—lum di lum di lie.” Lum di lum di lie—Detroit’s Masonic Auditorium, May 1980. Smokey stops and smiles. “We don’t know how to spell it, but we sure know how to say it.”
Is everybody ready?
In a small yellow circle on the original purple Gordy label: “It’s what’s in the groove that counts.”
John Lee Hooker, “Boogie Chillen”‘: “You know it’s in ’em and it’s just got to come out.”.
Thursday, December 16, 1965. The Fox Theatre, downtown Detroit. The Motor Town Review. Junior Walker and the All Stars, Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye. In Smokey: Inside My Life, Robinson recollects: “Junior was such a big-sound, stomp-down saxist, once at the Fox he was dancing so hard, he tripped and fell into the orchestra pit. The pit was deep, but Junior was a showman, and he kept playing, his wail growing more distant the farther he fell, until he landed on his feet, his ‘Shotgun’ still firing.” That was the night. We arrived early. Sat in the tenth or eleventh row near the aisle, as close to the stage as we could. “Shotgun”—you know—”shoot ’em before they run.” Dig potatoes. Pick tomatoes. Stevie Wonder, 15 years old, Clarence Paul beside him scatting gospel on Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” followed by a long, pure, frenzied expression on the mouth harp. Music. Sweet music. Music everywhere. Swinging, swaying, records playing: “Do you love me / now that I can dance –The Contours”—the epigraph to Al Young’s first book of poems, Dancing. “The field open / the whole circle of life / is ours for the jump ing into, / we ourselves the way we feel/ right now”: from Young’s poem ”Dancing in the Street.” Eddie Kendrick’s falsetto, a”Whitfield-and-Holland song, “The Girl’s All Right with Me.” “Ain’t that peculiar-peculiarity”: written and produced by Smokey, on the Tamla label, sung by Marvin Gaye. Later, on the radio, Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party,” so we stopped the car, opened the doors, and danced slowly in the street.
In his unauthorized biography Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, John Collis reports on Morrison’s appearance at the King’s Hotel, Newport, South Wales, on October 6, 1993. Morrison began to lecture the audience. “This is not rock, this is not pop,” he said. “This is called soul music. So instead of all the motherfucking bastards who say something different, this is what it is.” After several attempts to start singing—never getting beyond “I’m a trans-Euro train”—Morrison continued. “I’m talking about soul. I’m a soul singer. I’m more a motherfucking soul singer than some motherfucking motherfucker. I’m a soul singer. I sing soul songs. Blues.”
George Clinton, in an interview, “Brother from Another Planet,” with Vernon Reid in Vibe: “We came from Motown. I always knew that I had been trained as a producer and a writer and there was nothing else like the discipline they had at Motown. Having done that, then we saw Cream and Vanilla Fudge and all of them take the music my mother liked, flip it around and make it loud, and it became cool. We realized that blues was the key to that music. We just speeded blues up and called it ‘funk’ ’cause we knew it was a bad word to a lot of people.”
Van Morrison’s Saint Dominic’s Preview, the first cut: “Jackie Wilson said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile).” The opening lines: “Jackie Wilson said it was reet petite, kind of lovin’ she gives knocks me off my feet. . .” On The Healing Game, the song “Sometimes We Cry,” Morrison sings, “Gonna put me in a jacket and take me away, I’m not gonna fake it like Johnny Ray.” On Enlightenment, in “In the Days before Rock ‘n’ Roll”: “Come in, come in, come in Ray Charles, come in the high priest.” “I’m down on my knees at those wireless knobs.” Telefunken. Searching for Budapest. AFM. Fats and Elvis, Sonny, Lightnin’, Muddy, John Lee, did not come in, no they did not come in, did not come in without those wireless knobs. Soul. Radio. This is the sound of my wavelength and your wavelength—ya radio. You turn me on when you get me on your wavelength—ya radio, ya radio.
“Pulsars, blue receding / quasars-their vibrant / radio waves. Cosmic Ouija, / what is the / mathematics of your message?”: the fourth of five parts of Robert Hayden’s poem “Stars.”
Released in early 1962, Ray Charles’s Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music remained on Billboard’s pop album chart for nearly two years, fourteen weeks in the number-one position. “Not only did it gain him millions of new fans,” writes Todd Everett, “the album firmly booted the thirty-one-year-old Charles from the ‘R&B’ category and let general (let’s face it) white audiences know what connoisseurs had taken for granted for several years, that Ray Charles had something to say to virtually everybody and that there’s nobody else who can tell it like Brother Ray.” The LP’s second-to last cut is “That Lucky Old Sun,” according to Everett “a 1949 smash hit by Frankie Laine, written by the Tin Pan Alley tune smiths Haven Gillespie and Fred Coots.”
In a three-day recording session at Blue Rock Studios in New York City in March 1971, Bob Dylan, after recording “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” did covers of “That Lucky Old Sun,” Ben King’s “Spanish Harlem,” and the gospel classic “Rock of Ages.”
There are those who maintain that Aretha Franklin’s version of “Spanish Harlem” (“a rose in black and Spanish Harlem”) is one of her finest tunes. The June 28, 1968, cover of Time: “Singer Aretha Franklin. The Sound of Soul.” She was around nine, Franklin recalled, when she decided to sing. Her father was the prominent Detroit clergyman, the Reverend C. L. Franklin. “The best, the greatest, gospel singers came through our home in Detroit. Some times they stayed with us. James Cleveland lived with us for a time and it was James who taught me how to play piano by ear.” Most of what she learned vocally she learned from her father. “He gave me a sense of timing in music and timing is important in everything.” The opening to Bob Dylan’s 1966 book Tarantula: “aretha / jukebox queen of hymn & him diffused in drunk transfusion wound would heed sweet soundwave crippled & cry salute to oh great particular el dorado reel.” Say what? Sweet soundwave cry salute hymn diffused great particular C-a-d-i-l-l-a-c El Dorado real. Yes, Aretha told Newsweek in August ’67, she learned a lot from Sam Cooke. “He did so many things with his voice. So gentle one minute, swinging the next, then electrifying. Always doing something else.” When he was still with the Soul Stirrers, Cooke brought his dub recording of “You Send Me” over to the Franklins’ house for the family to hear. “The song became a hit, and Sam went pop.” When Cooke made the change, Aretha said to herself, “I’d sure like to sing like that, too.”
Soulin’ Sam Cooke. “Cherie LP 1001.” “Two Record Soul Pack.” Written in a small box on the front cover: “BONUS 45 RPM RECORD INSIDE! Never-Before-Heard 25-Minute Rap Session by SAM COOKE ‘What is Soul.”‘ On the back cover: “Dedicated to J. W: Alexander, who knew the true meaning of Gospel Soul Music and became the first to convert it into Rhythm and Blues.” Recorded on it, a two part rendition of Gershwin’s “Summertime,” each part exactly two minutes, 17 seconds long.
The desire of truth bursting from within.
Rapping and mapping every generation’s survival.
Igniting a brighter and dedicated flame.
The recently released “Deluxe Edition” of Marvin Gaye’s What Going On. Two discs. On disc One: “Original LP Release (May 21, 1971)”; “Original Detroit Mix (April 5, 1971)” (previously unreleased); “The Foundation” (‘”What’s Going On’ rhythm & strings mix”) (previously unreleased). On disc Two: “Live at the Kennedy Center (May 1, 1972)”; “Original Single Versions”; “In the Mean time” (“Head Title aka ‘Distant Lover'”). The live performance at the Kennedy Center was Gaye’s first in four years. He opened with a medley, the first three songs, “That’s the Way Love Is,” “You,” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” originally produced by Norman Whitfield. When he recorded for Whitfield, Gaye told David Ritz, “he had me singing so high and hard the veins in my neck nearly popped.” After the medley, songs from What Going On. Almost two minutes into “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” Marvin stops singing and begins conversing, while the band continues to play. “Now Maurice, Maurice King-Maurice King here is my arranger, here, on the piano, and, and, because I want this to be a groovy tune, what I want to do is start all over again from the top, because I want to do it, because we’re in the groove now”—the band was still playing—”it’s a bit more groovy now, and I want to keep it where it is, from the top, we gonna take it from the top, take it from the top now . . .
“One, two, three, four, all right, all right, yeah, I got to have it groovy . . . ”
“Dah dah dah, dah dah dah dah dah dah . . . ”
Rockets, moon shots, spend it all on have-nots. . .
“Money we make it, ‘fore we see it, you take it . . . ”
“Make you wanna holler, the way they do my life, make you wanna holler, the way they do my life, this ain’t livin’, no, no, ain’t livin’, no, no, no. . . ”
Nelson George, in his beautiful elegy “The Power and the Glory,” in the Village Voice, May 8, 1984: Marvin said he had “three different voices, a falsetto, a gritty gospel shout, and a smooth midrange close to his speaking voice. Depending on the tune’s key, tone, and intention, he was able to accommodate it, becoming a creative slave to the music’s will.”
Marvin’s “Trouble Man”: “I know some places and I see some faces, got some connections, they dig my directions, what people say, that’s okay, they don’t bother me-I’m ready to make it, don’t care about the weather, don’t care about no trouble, I got myself together, I see the protection that’s all around me.”
Smokey’s “A Love She Can Count On”: “I know that you know how precious to care is, and you know, my darling, that I know that there is. . .”
Like sunshine. I got sunshine. You are my sunshine. I feel like this is the beginning, though I’ve loved you for a million years, and if I thought our love was ending, I’d find myself drowning in my own tears. You are the sunshine. You are the sunshine of my life. That’s why I’ll always be around.
Phil Spector, on the radio commenting on the Four Tops’ “Reach Out”: “If you feeeeel that you can’t goooooo oooonnn . . . “: it’s black Dylan.
From The Changing Same (R&B and New Black Music), Baraka: “But it is interpretation. The Miracles are spiritual. They sing (and sing about) feeling. Their content is about feeling . . . the form is to make feeling, etc . . . ‘Walk On By,’ ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?’ ‘The Tracks of My Tears,’ high poetry in the final character of their delivery . . . A blues which bees older than Ray Charles or Lightnin’ Hopkins, for that matter. ‘I got to laugh to keep from cryin,’ which the Miracles make, ‘I got to dance to keep from cryin,’ is not only a song but the culture itself. It is finally the same cry, the same people. You really got a hold on me. As old as our breath here . . . James Brown’s screams, etc., are more ‘radical’ than most jazz musicians sound, etc. Certainly his sound is ‘further out’ than Ornette’s.”
As old as our breath. The ancient streets. The back streets. Back on the street. The street only knew your name. Back on the street again.
George Clinton answering Vernon Reid’s question “How did funk come into being?”: “Our show was basically R&B and we got happy and we became, you know, like churchy. And once we experienced what you could do to people just jumping around from the soul to the blues parts of our songs, we realized that nobody could even be our competition, and we didn’t have to worry about doing it fast—everybody in the band would tell you that I said it’s gonna take fifteen years for this to work.”
Space? Marvin: “Funky space. Peaceful space. It’s every place” (“A Funky Space Incarnation”). “Time for countdown, please. Give me the countdown, Zack. Here we go, here we go—you ready?”
“One, fun. Two, you. Three, me. Four, more. Five, no jive. Six, no tricks. Seven, we in heaven, eight, everything is straight. Nine, fine. Ten, next week we’ll do it again.”
From the top. All over again. Back on the top again. from the top.
Stevie Wonder’s second LP—he was 13 years old—Tribute to Uncle Ray.
John Rockwell’s December 26, 1986, review, “Pop: Smokey Robinson in Six-Night Engagement,” in the New York Times: “But Mr. Robinson has hardly abandoned his falsetto. Instead, he has integrated it ever more seamlessly into his total method of vocal production, so that most of the time, one can’t say for sure exactly what the proportion of ‘chest tone,’ ‘head tone,’ and falsetto really is. The now-moribund French operatic style of singing that flourished in the 19th century called this blending of registers a ‘voix mixte,’ and Mr. Robinson mixes his registers as well as any singer alive, operatic or otherwise.”
Aretha Franklin’s first album in seven years, the CD A Rose Is Still a Rose. In an interview with Christopher John Farley from “her hometown of Detroit” in Time, March 2, 1998: “I’m a very versatile vocalist. That’s what I think a singer should be. Whatever it is, I can sing it. I’m not a rock artist. But I’ve done some rocking. I love the Puffy song (“Never Leave You Again”) on my album. It’s very jazzy, very cool, very easy.”
Van Morrison, “Queen of the Slipsteam”: “There’s a dream where the contents are visible. Where the poetic champions compose. Will you breathe not a word of this secrecy and will you still be my special rose?”
Thought. Feeling. Form. Emotion.
A rose in . . .
A bit more groovy, now, right?
A rose is . . .
Need a shot of rhythm, need a shot of blues. On the side? A little rock and roll just for good measure. Like, you know, when the chill bumps come up on you. When the hands start to clapping and the fingers start to popping, and your feet want to move around. When the feeling finally gets you . . .
Hey. Hey now. Hey now, go easy now, keep on keep on pushin’ easy now, in the easy now, and, if you can’t go easy, then just go as easy as you can.
Bob Dylan: Almost Went to See Elvis. Cool Daddy Productions. Made in Egypt The second cut: Sam Cooke’s “Cupid.” Recorded at the Columbia Studios, Nashville, May 1969.
St. Andrew’s Hall, Detroit, July 6, 1999. Between versions of “Silvio” and “Man in the Long Black Coat,” Dylan pauses and says: “This afternoon I went over to the Motown Museum. I went over the Motown Museum and went in, and I asked the man there, ‘Where’s the Smokey Robinson stuff?’ And he says to me, ‘I don’t know where the Smokey Robinson stuff is,’ I say, ‘Say what? You don’t know where the Smokey Robinson stuff is?’ ‘No,’ he says. ‘I don’t know where the Smokey Robinson stuff is.’ ‘Well,’ I say, ‘that’s why I’m here. That is what I am looking for, the Smokey Robinson stuff. That’s what I am here looking for. I am here looking for the Smokey Robinson stuff.'”
This essay originally appeared as part of a longer essay in Best American Music Writing 2003.