Black history music: The final week

Black history music: The final week

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Listen to Tony Sarabia and Richard Steele discuss their picks on Eight Forty-Eight

Tony Sarabia and Richard Steele have been rocking your world every Thursday this month, with a whole half-hour dedicated to their favorite music by black musicians. And luckily for you, even though Black History Month is almost over, they’ll continue sharing their favorite tunes every Thursday going forward. (Next week’s selections will be on the theme of numbers.)

But first: Tony explains how difficult it was for him to pick the right cuts for Richard week to week. Then, Richard shares what he surprised Tony with today.

Tony Sarabia:

Music is my bones. Growing up there was always music in our house, from Trini Lopez belting out “If I Had Hammer,” to The Temptations’ latest hit. So for me, the idea of celebrating the contributions of African-Americans using music was as natural as doing the bump with Michelle Washington and Tavares at a dance at Longfellow School in Oak Park school in 1974.

I don’t know about Richard Steele, but coming up with songs was a difficult task, only because of the half-hour time constraint. So part of my strategy was to surprise not only the Real Steele, but you, the listener.

Going though my collection was both a challenge and a joy, because I was searching for rarely played tunes— the music I would play every day when I first discovered something like Billie Holiday’s mournful “You’re My Thrill” or the scratched up LP by Gil Scott Heron given to me by the mom of one of my high school friends.

That’s one of the pleasures of music for me: connecting a song or album with a story or a particular time in my life. Sly and the Family Stone holds a very special place in my heart because it was the first concert my parents took me and my two sisters to when I was about 7 years old. I became an avid fan and began to ask my dad about music like the blend of funk and rock Sly was so deft at producing.

We saw the band (yes he actually showed up to perform!) at the Chicago Amphitheatre and I have this vague memory of standing up dancing and a tall, slender man in the seat next to me looking down at me smiling saying, “You go little man.”

But instead of playing Sly, I thought I’d reach a little deeper, to a Chicago musician who was influenced by Mr. Stone. That’s why we heard Baby Huey last week.

Of course, there were some new discoveries along the way. I still get a chill listening to Linda Martell doing a country version of the R&B classic “Color Him Father.”

Another challenge was being equal in my representation of male and female artists. So to close the series I thought I’d make it easy on myself and pull some of my favorite duets.

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell was an obvious choice for me, but even with that popular duo I wanted to throw a bit of a curve ball. Hence their rendition of “Something Stupid,” the Latin-tinged song closely associated with Frank and Nancy Sinatra. The Motown beat fits perfectly with the strings and brass. And who can resist Tammi’s voice working so well with Mr. Gaye’s harmonizing? Beauty:

I also included one of my favorite piano players/singers: Nellie Lutcher. I found an old 10-inch record of the Lake Charles, Louisiana native at a garage sale years ago, and well, sometimes you buy a record because of the cover, right?

The thrill went beyond the album cover. The record contained her “hit,” “Real Gone Guy,” but the tune she does with Nat King Cole was not; I found that one after a search for anything Nellie not long after buying the 10-inch. Her somewhat gruff and definitely unique singing style is a wonderful contrast to Nat’s smooth as cream delivery:

My final duet pick has no lyrics but does include a once-married couple and the still then very rare female Hammond B3 organist. “Good Looking Out” by Shirley Scott and tenor sax man Stanley Turrentine is one of those greasy blues/jazz numbers that is capable of getting the most upper crust “long hair” to tap his toes.

Richard Steele:

Legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and “country blues” man John Lee Hooker would seem unlikely musical collaborators. Miles was an international recording star. You might recall that John Lee Hooker had a guest shot performing in the Blues Brothers movie. His biggest record was Boom Boom Boom, recorded in 1962 and still used today in several T.V. commercials.

The two of them got together to record music for the soundtrack of a 1990 movie called The Hot Spot (with Don Johnson of Miami Vice). The film was produced and directed by actor Dennis Hopper (the wild man of Hollywood). He and Miles were pretty good friends, so Miles agreed to help him out.

As an example of how eclectic the sound track was— there are performances from folk and blues artist Taj Mahal and Roy Rogers, the multi-Grammy nominated producer and slide guitarist. The track we picked to play is called “Coming To Town.” Miles is playing muted trumpet and John Lee Hooker is playing guitar and doing some humming and moaning. It works!         

Johnny Mathis was a track star in college and had to decide between music and athletics. At one point, he considered a training regimen that would help him qualify for the Olympics.

Mathis had this beautiful voice and sang in some of San Francisco’s local jazz clubs. When he was discovered by Columbia records, they knew they had an extraordinary talent— but they weren’t sure what to do with him. So the first album they recorded (before the one with his “break-out” hits “Chances Are” and “It’s Not For Me To Say”) was a jazz album— that nobody bought!

Years later, it became a collector’s item. It’s simply titled Johnny Mathis and was recorded in 1956. Stand-out jazz player Phil Woods is heard on alto sax. The song is called “Star Eyes.” Could it be that this song title predicted Johnny Mathis’s future? 

B.B. King, now 86 years old and still performing, is generally acknowledged to be “The King Of the Blues.” He originally recorded this track in 1982, but it got some new life in 2003, when famed director Martin Scorsese did a public television series in 2003 called The Blues, which featured some of B.B. King’s music. This particular track seems so perfectly suited to the times we’re living in, I just couldn’t pass it up. It’s called “Inflation Blues.” The lyrics probably won’t make you feel any better…but the music is great!

Richard’s picks:

1. “Coming to Town,” Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker

2. “Star Eyes,” Johnny Mathis

3. “Inflation Blues,” BB King

Tony’s picks:

1. “Something Stupid,” Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

2. “For You  My Love,” Nellie Lutcher & Nat King Cole 

3. “Good Lookin’ Out,” Stanley Turrentine & Shirley Scott

Correction: The text has been corrected to identify Roy Rogers as the multi-Grammy nominated producer and slide guitarist, not the singing cowboy.