Do One Kind Favor for Little Joe Washington

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Photo courtesy of Ray Redding/TexasRedd
Little Joe Washington tears it up at the 2008 Houston International Festival.
I'm sad and grateful with tears for Marion Washington, better known by his nickname "Little Joe." I am grieving more deeply than I would have guessed for what was obviously inevitable, given his 75 years and his frail and failing health in recent months.

If you want to understand where this talented musician was coming from -- sonically and otherwise -- listen to some early Johnny "Guitar" Watson, another late Third Ward phenom. Check out that guitar tone, the raspy vocals.

Our Little Joe was original and unique; yes, he was, but he -- just like his mentor Joe "Guitar" Hughes -- was profoundly influenced by Watson. Little Joe was the last link in that lineage, the final articulation of a combination of sounds we will not hear again live on local (or other) stages.


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Soul Brother No. 1 Was a Complicated Dad, Says New Book

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Chicago Review Press
Dr. Yamma Brown, whose Father was the Godfather. Got that?
James Brown was, of course, the Godfather of Soul and The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. But all that he worked to grab those titles over decades seemed to come crashing down through much of the '80s and '90s.

That's when he derailed into years of drug and domestic abuse, erratic behavior, weapons charges, a carousel of women, and questionable business deals. His name became more a punch line for comedians than a pillar for music writers, the low point being a crazy-looking mug shot and an actual stint in a South Carolina prison (remember the "Free James Brown" T-shirts?).

But his crash and burn was no laughing matter to some members of his family, especially daughter Yamma.


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Trudy Lynn Has America's No. 1 Blues Album This Week

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Photo by Marco Torres
Trudy Lynn at last month's HPMA ceremony
Trudy Lynn's Royal Oak Blues Cafe is entering its second week in the No 1 spot on Billboard's Top Blues Albums chart this week. She's pretty happy about it.

"Oh my God. Isn't that wonderful?", Lynn said by phone Wednesday morning. "I'm just floored. I don't know how I feel about it. I'm elated, I'm happy. Finally my ship has sailed in."

Royal Oak has had a relatively long climb to the top for the longtime Houston blues singer. It was originally released locally last November on Connor Ray, the label run by Lynn's collaborator Steve Krase, who receives under-the-title credit on the album. It has been climbing Billboard's chart since getting picked up by MDI Distribution earlier this summer. It became available on iTunes in July and first appeared on Billboard's blues chart the week of August 2, where it debuted at No. 11 as the "Hot Shot Debut."


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Debonair Lounge Mondays at Cafe 4212 Are a Must

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Photos by Marco Torres
Note: the following photos are from Marco Torres' visit to Debonair Lounge in February, like this one of hosts Tay Mitch and Brad Gilmore. See more at this slideshow.
People are spilling out the door of this little lounge on Almeda, a rare sight for a Monday night. Most bars in this area are ghost towns, closed for the night to avoid the dreaded weekday slump.

But not Café 4212 (4212 Almeda). On Mondays, the cozy lounge straddling the Museum District and Third Ward is packed.

"Hey man! Hurry up! We've been waiting for you for an hour now."


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The Force Is Strong With Mali Music's Conscious Soul

Categories: Soulsville

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Photos courtesy of RCA Records
The new king of conscious soul, Mali Music came to earth at No. 2 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart with his latest release, Mali Is.... It was pushed there by a first single, "Beautiful," that encourages us to "put our lighters up" in a nod to Lil Kim's Brooklyn anthem but with a smoother side of edification.

As we rapped, similarities in our musical career came out. My '90s band, Afroplane, got signed to RCA sub-label Kaper and, with family/church support, we saw a little shine before the industry's bureaucratic "dark side" reared its head. Thankfully, for Mali Music, "The Force" is still with him.

Today a ByStorm/RCA recording artist in full bloom, Mali was plucked out of the red clay of Georgia. The Savannah native was surrounded by his family and church, Faith on the Move Intl., and bubbles of euphoria erupted as we relished our shared roots.


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Charlie Wilson, Erykah Badu & the O'Jays at The Woodlands, 5/31/2014

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Photos by Jody Perry
"Uncle" Charlie Wilson (center, in shades) and friends
Note: Eddie Levert was originally identified as his late son Gerald. Rocks Off regrets the error.

Magic 102.1 Under the Stars
Featuring Charlie Wilson, Erykah Badu & the O'Jays
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
May 31, 2014

On a night of classic and modern R&B at a packed house in The Woodlands, with perfect summer weather of clear skies and temperatures below the 80s, Majic 102.1's Under the Stars concert was a powerhouse lineup with more No. 1 hit songs than you can shake a 2014 Free Press Summer Fest at. It was a night of baby-making music where those who had made babies, along with the babies they made, were out to make even more babies.

The night's performances jump-started with a defibrillator-like zap with Rock & Roll Hall of Famers and Sound of Philadelphia alums the O'Jays. The classic vocal R&B trio -- dressed in matching white suits featuring jackets with exposed chests, satin frills, fringe at the wrists and sequins -- came with a full band, complete with horn section. They launched onstage with the vigor of acts one-third their age with the 1975 hit "Give the People What They Want."

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Where's the Blues in the Black Community?

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Photo by Jody Perry
Is the blues almost out of the picture?
"For a black male, the sound of the blues is pre-Civil Rights. It's oppression. In high school I had a friend who asked me why I played the blues, that black people don't play blues."
-- Gary Clark Jr.

Blues was once a very popular and influential musical genre. Its artists were a common sight at local venues like Third Ward's legendary El Dorado Ballroom, as well as in other Houston-area African-American neighborhoods like Sunnyside, Fifth Ward and beyond, where Johnny Taylor, Joe Tex, Bobby Blue Bland and countless others would play to mostly black audiences on a nightly basis.

But nowadays this music is all but completely absent in these African-American communities, and blues gigs are rare, novel events. Black folks have seemingly abandoned the blues at the street level and even in a commercial sense. Young African-Americans no longer make up the audiences at blues venues around town. In most places in the U.S., including Houston, the audience of the blues is primarily constituted of non-African Americans.

The question is: Why? What has happened to the blues in the African-American community?

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Ledisi Comes Home: A Time for Omawale

Categories: Soulsville

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Photos courtesy of Verve Music Group
Tonight Houston welcomes home Ledisi, a dynamic singer and daughter of the bayou area.

But can you ever really go home again? A famous text says, "They asked us to sing songs, but how can we sing songs of Zion in a strange land." No doubt these questions are the meditation of the 300 Nigerian school girls who were recently kidnapped.

Although from Texas, I'm still searching after losing my mother here to tragedy. Looking back, almost ten years ago Hurricane Katrina created a diaspora of New Orleanians and bayou residents. Some went to my adopted Atlanta. With the Mormons, others found refuge in Utah akin to Operation Solomon in Ethiopia. People came to Houston mingling their survival instincts with entrepreneurial drive.


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The Shakespearean Story of Soulsville, U.S.A. Focus of New Book

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wattstax.com
Jesse Jackson introduces Isaac Hayes - "Black Moses" - at the 1972 Wattstax concert.

Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion
By Robert Gordon
384 pp.
$30
Bloomsbury

It's a story that any novelist or screenwriter would find fantastical. A white, middle-aged banker and part time country music fiddler with a hankering to get into the music business convinces his older sister (and her skeptical husband) to mortgage their house so he can open a recording studio.

Then, the pair buy an abandoned movie theater in a downtrodden area of blacker-than-black Memphis, build said studio, and also an in-house record shop. And from that studio come some of the most treasured music of the '60s and '70s, heard around the world.

Stax Records (from the names of the banker/fiddler Jim STewart and sister Estelle AXton) would ultimlately put its name on some 800 singles and 300 albums from 1960-1975, launching the careers of dozens of performers including Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Booker T. and the MG's, Isaac Hayes, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Sam and Dave, Luther Ingram, Albert King, The Staples Singers, the Bar-Kays, and many, many more.

The more polished and palpable Motown may have called itself "Hitsville, U.S.A.," but there was no mistaking the meaning when Stax put up the proclamation "Soulsville, U.S.A." right on the old theater's marquee.


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Soul Screamer Barrence Whitfield Will Make You "Bleed From the Eyeballs"

Categories: Soulsville

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Photos courtesy of Bloodshot Records

Attention, those of you planning to go the Barrence Whitfield and the Savages show tomorrow. Want to visit backstage or get in good with the screaming fireball of a soul man? All you need to do is cater to his sweet tooth.

"There was this club we used to play right outside of Houston and there was this restaurant nearby. And they made the best banana cream pie ever!" Whitfield says just before a sound check in New Orleans.

"And they would bring it to us backstage," he adds. "I remember one time I ate it before the second set, but had to rush out. I came onstage and there was cream all over my mouth. I just told the audience, 'Ummm...love that banana cream pie!"

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