I Was Born This Way

Today was a historic day – The SCOTUS ruled that love is actually more powerful than hate, and gave equal rights to our LGBT brothers and sisters. I’m so overcome with joy that I feel like shouting about my happiness from every rooftop. And then I remembered that I have been resurrecting my old #BreakbeatTuesday columns and so though that this is a perfect time for me to revisit this piece that I wrote about Carl Bean for the Fool’s Gold #CosmosCrates series, originally posted on January 11th, 2011 courtesy of my Fool’s Gold friends … Enjoy!

Archbishop Carl Bean

What’s good, Fool’s Gold massive? Your favorite record nerd is back again to drop some gems on you, and when I say “gems” I really mean useless shit from the treasure trove that is La Cabeza De Cosmo. Now it’s fucking crazy to me that, here in the 21st Century, there still isn’t equal rights for the LGBT community in America. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that 2 people who love each other and devote their lives to one another, that are gay, do not share the same rights as those who are straight. One day, people will look back at this time and just be ashamed of themselves. Another thing that drives me absolutely batshit crazy are those people in the DJ and dance music community who are completely (consciously or not) homophobic. Don’t you know, if it weren’t for the gay community, none of this shit would even be here in the way it is? But that all might be another discussion for another time, and my time is so very precious, so let me get right to the music this week with “I Was Born This Way.”

To frame how good this song is, last summer me and Eli Escobar were doing an outdoor party and we were playing all vinyl. We thought the crowd was going to be mostly people that came to hear really good dance music, you know, house and disco. But it ended up being more of a “weekend warrior” type of crowd that closely resembled an all Asian prom. Because we only had vinyl we were pretty much locked into what we could play, so we just had to take the brunt of all the requests for Rihanna or Biggie. But, being the dudes that we were, we stuck to our guns and made the most of it, turning the party out. The highlight of the night to me was when Eli played Carl Bean’s “I Was Born This Way” and the dancefloor was packed with what seemed to be a group of South Philly Cambodian thugs, all of them just losing their shit, hands in the air to the song. Eli and I just looked at each other, speechless… Power of the groove, I guess.

This disco anthem and gay liberation touchstone was written by Chris Spierer and Bunny Jones. Jones, a straight, Christian, Black woman from Harlem decided to pen the song in tribute to the gay employees who worked at her hair salon. She realized they were experiencing terrible oppression both in everyday life as well as internally, with a society that wouldn’t allow these folks to express themselves for who they really were. And with that, a protest song was born in 1971. 4 years later it was recorded by a little known singer named Valentino and pressed up by Jones and sold out of the back of her trunk, Too $hort style. It was a stripped down version utilizing a schaffel beat that sounds more like a Partridge Family ’70s pop record than a disco tune, but the song began to pick up steam and started getting a lot of play, even going to #1 in the UK. Sensing a hit, Berry Gordy decided to option distribution rights for Motown, but decided to wait 2 years and rerecord the song with established (though not large by any means) singer Carl Bean. Bean was openly gay but the folks over at Motown were completely ignorant to that fact, merely choosing him because of his powerful, gospel infused vocals. Having matched that with impeccable TSOP production by Norman Harris, they were golden with a silky and sublime groover of a tune – a tune that was the first true gay anthem to come from within the community itself. The song still packs the floors from Christopher Street to the Castro. Bean himself never really had another hit as big, but he did fine with himself, eventually becoming an Archbishop of the Unity Fellowship Church Movement.

By the late 70s disco had transformed from an extension of soul music to a bland pop formula that anyone (and Ethel Merman) wanted to cash in on. Mark Ronson speaks a little bit about that in this fantastic interview. And then the “Disco Sucks” movement was born, a backlash that not so subtly masked it’s latent racism and homophobia in the guise of being “shocking,” dictating that something that was just so much fun just wasn’t cool anymore. It was around this time there was a shift in public taste back towards a more hetero, testosterone infused frat boy rock sound. All good, and I love “My Sharona” as much as the next man, but come on… can’t you let the people live? But of course disco never really died, it just went underground, to places like The Paradise Gagage, and places like The Warehouse in Chicago. And this shift helped give birth to a brand new sound – House Music.

Now OBVIOUSLY if you’re reading the Fool’s Gold blog then you’re no stranger to house and dance music in general. But it has a long and rich history, dating back to the bathhouses of NYC to the Mecca of Chicago through the one and only Frankie Knuckles. House music IS soul music though, in the truest sense of the term. It’s something that gets within you and doesn’t let you go. Shit, in a lot of ways early Techno music is soul music as well. It was a bunch of Black guys from Detroit that wanted to be P-Funk but instead of getting instruments they got drum machines. Anyway, Chicago is arguably the Mecca but New York was still the epicenter of dance culture, and by the late ’80s and early ’90s it had birthed it’s own crop of homegrown artists and producers. And one of these guys is Pal Joey.

You know Pal Joey’s records even if you don’t know who he is. He’s the man behind the all time dance classic by Soho, “Hot Music,” which is perhaps the strangest, funkiest, most progressive dance record of all time. I don’t know how he thought of that but I picture him in the studio saying “Okay, let me loop up this random jazz piano vamp, play some hard as fuck drums on top – but not a four on the floor style, let me play this house beat like a hip-hop breakbeat…” But that’s probably because he comes from the school of DJs – AND LISTENERS / DANCERS – that would fuck with rap music, classics, reggae and house at the same time. That real New York shit you know, where in the ’80s and ’90s rap and dance music all shared the same shelf space. And for the record, Joey has done plenty of hip-hop productions for KRS-One, MC Lyte and more.

But back to “Hot Music,” it’s like he has an uncanny knack for hearing a short segment of music, a small piece that the average listener wouldn’t even catch, and he’ll say “THAT’S THE ONE.” (And be advised, yes, I do know what the “Hot Music” loop is but I’m no snitch.) Another example of Pal Joey’s golden ear is his other group Earth People and their all-time classic house crate staple, “Dance.” This is another one of those songs that you just know. I see Joey on some shit: “Yo, let me peep this Carl Bean record, flip that shit over to the instrumental side… OH SHIT what was that really cool sounding break right in there? Lemme loop that shit up, speed that shit up and put some of the hardest drums known to man on it.” And just like that, another classic is born… Ahahh, I see what you did there.

Breakbeat Tuesday – Special Guest Oliver O-Dub Wang

Whattup, world? Been a minute since I’ve brought the breaks on the second day of the week (third if you’re a tribes member) but this week I’m happy to bring in a very special guest, my dude Oliver Wang BKA O-Dub from the almighty Soul-Sides.com. For those that don’t know, Soul-Sides has been one of the preeminent sources and most comprehensive places on the web for all things soul, funk, jazz, latin, hip-hop, you name it. If it’s got soul, it’s on this site. O-Dub go way back many years ago after linking up with him via The Strut, and I started to spend a lot more time in The Bay. Ever the scholar, he has a true gift of breaking down the stories behind the music in a very academic manner (he is an assistant professor at CSU-Long Beach for crying out loud) but with never removing the humanity within the grooves. Truly “Doing The Knowledge.” So it’s my sincere pleasure to bring to you this week’s BBT with my man O-Dub at the helm. Take it away, my man…

Like the rest of the world, I probably first heard the the “Cussin, Cryin’ and Carryin’ On” break (“CCCO” for short) on 45 King’s instant classic of a remix for Take 6’s accapella jam, “Spread Love.”

Even among the pantheon of great 45 King beats, this one stood out for any number of reasons. For one, the kick drum has that incredible bottom boom; it literally sounds like a “fat beat.” However, by itself, it wouldn’t be anywhere as potent if not for the syncopation of that kick with the hi-hat and snare. Any number of images come to mind when I hear how the pattern lines up – it’s like someone rattling and throwing dice, it’s like whipping a rattlesnake by its head, it’s like down-shifting a race car and flooring it. You get the idea.

The brilliance of how the “CCCO” break comes together owes partially to its source:

Ike Turner (or more accurately, his drummer), should get proper credit for dreaming up that particular pattern but notice that the “break” here is basically a one bar intro; the rest of the song doesn’t keep that particular cadence. The “CCCO” break, as we know it, wouldn’t be what it is without 45 King recognizing the potential of looping that up and creating something far greater than its original source. Hell, even “Put Your Hand In the Hand” lasts for two bars.

Befitting the royalty of 45 King’s creation, the “CCCO” break recurs prominently in some major ways, especially as a track to kick a freestyle over. Arguably the most famous examples – twice over – lies with Biggie. You’ve probably seen this video:

There’s the young B.I.G., apparently rocking a street corner over the “CCCO” break. And then later, the same beat appears again in one of the greatest “what could have been?” moments in rap history:

Yup, ‘Pac and Biggie rapping over the “CCCO” break (along with Big Scoob, Kane and Shyheim), live at Madison Square Garden in ’95. But to give credit where it’s due, a year before that, you hear the “CCCO” break powering another live session but this time, it’s taking MCs to war:

During the infamous Hiero vs. Hobo battle in 1994, DJ Joe Quixxx used the “CCCO break” (using doubles of “Spread Love”) during the first couple of rounds between Casual and Saafir.

Indeed, the “CCCO” break had a real heyday in the early 1990s, showing up on records by everyone from Das Efx to the Pharcyde to Towa Tei but my absolute favorite (on griminess alone) is from Madman Shawn:

Camy wear? Check. Black hoodie? Check. Timbos? Check. The fact that the video is hella low-budget only enhances its mad-wreck-realness. Rip it up, son, rip it up.

Ike & Tina Turner “Cussin’, Cryin’ & Carryin’ On” (Pompei, 1969)

Breakbeat Tuesday – Special Guest DJ Ayres

This week’s special guest for Breakbeat Tuesday is none other than my partner in crime, Brooklyn by way of Natchez, Mississippi’s own DJ Ayres. Now Yung Urrs grew up down south on a farm, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that this guy doesn’t know his shit, cause he’ll kind of son you. There are many chambers to his style. You can catch Ayres alongside DJ Eleven and myself the first Saturday of the month at The Rub, our monthly party at Southpaw in Brooklyn. When he’s not administering cock-punches or watching fine films starring John Cena, you can find him traveling the globe as a world-class DJ, and helming his dance music imprint T&A Records. Other than that, he’s kind of the bane of my existence, but I would never ever let that information get out to the world…

One of the big movements when I first got into DJing was acid jazz. Fifteen years later, this shit has not aged well at all.  Mark Farina’s “Mushroom Jazz” CDs (and unmixed vinyl compilations) were a staple back then, and aside from the odd Jigmastas (DJ Spinna) instrumental, it was all a little tepid for my tastes.  An exception was Blue Boy “Remember Me,” which had this incredibly addictive female vocal loop over the Skull Snaps drums.  “Remember meee, the one who had your baby!  Gean geh geh gean geh geh gean gean gean, geh geh gean geh geh gean geh geh gean geh geh gean gean gean.”

Blue Boy – Remember Me (Mascotte, 1997)

There were also pieces of the same voice on the incredible, classic lounge-house record from around the same time, St Germain Rose Rouge.  I had to know what that voice was, and luckily for me it was an easy record to source: Marlena Shaw Cookin’ with Blue Note at Montreaux.  I say easy because even though this was before digging hit the internet, everyone was crazy about Blue Note in the mid-nineties; remember that there was a whole “Blue Break Beats” series, hugely popular for hip-hop and house DJs branching out into jazzy territories.  Remember Digable Planets? ATCQ?  It was a big sound. And your college radio station definitely had all the OG Blue Note stuff ripe for the picking, assuming an older head hadn’t gotten there already.  What up Ben Velez!

So back to Marlena Shaw, she grew up in New York State and started singing really young, went on the Apollo as a kid with her uncle’s band, played clubs in New York and Chicago and by her twenties ended up on Cadet / Chess Records.  Blue Note picked her up in 1972 when she was thirty, and a year later she was recorded in Switzerland at the Montreux Jazz Festival.  Tons of albums were recorded live over the years at Montreux, from Ray Charles to Alice Cooper, Sun Ra to Tori Amos.   Marlena Shaw played two years after the old Montreux Casino burned down while Frank Zappa was playing.  The headliners in 1973 were Canned Heat and Miles Davis.

Marlena Shaw “Woman Of The Ghetto” (Blue Note, 1973)

Epic! “Woman of the Ghetto” first appeared on Shaw’s album The Spice of Life in 1969.  She wrote it with Richard Evans (Soulful Strings, Dorothy Ashby, Sun Ra, etc) and Bobby Lee Miller.  You can hear the original (calimba!) and read a little more about it here. Great tune, and a great document from the civil rights era.

Now I could stop here but it would be irresponsible not to leave you with a bonus beat. Another great record off of The Spice of Life is “California Soul.”  Breakbeat Tuesday fans should be no stranger to Ashford & Simpson; well they wrote “California Soul” for The Fifth Dimension. I don’t fuck with the original but it is noteworthy. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (or was it actually Valerie Simpson? controversy!) recorded a terrific version, but IMO nothing else touches Marlena Shaw’s.

All the DJs sought out this one in the 90s after DJ Premier sampled it for “Check the Technique.”  Then Cut Chemist and Shadow rocked the 45 on Brainfreeze (1999) and the song moved way up the breakbeat canon; it’s a staple at The Rub.  Diplo even remixed it for Verve, an impossible task as it is basically unimprovable.  The drum break, the strings, the vocals, the lyrics, what a perfect song!

Marlena Shaw “California Soul” (Cadet, 1969)

Thanks a million for that, my dude. Now Ayres is no stranger to sharing music with the masses, and you can always check out his Vinyl Mondays on Flashing Lights and his Heavy Warmup mix series for more music from the young gawd.

Breakbeat Tuesday – Special Guest Supreme La Rock

I’ve been so busy lately with travel and music and life that the writing on this site’s taken a backseat for a moment. Relax. Refocus. Regroup. Thankfully I have a lot of buddies that are always down to help share their stories (and record collections) with me and you. So today I’m pleased to have my man Supreme La Rock come through and bless us with an ill gem. For those that don’t know, Seattle based Preme has been in the DJ and rare record collecting game since before I can remember, and is one of the illest dudes I know in the game. He’s one of those guys that makes you hate your own record collection. Hit up Preme on his Twitter for more jewels from the brother. Okay, so let’s get to it…

Welcome to yet another edition of “Breakbeat” Tuesday.  Before we get started, I just want to say that this is a true honor that I was even requested as the special guest for this weeks installation. As with anything I do I try to be as thorough as possible. So, for this one I made a lot of phone calls, emails and research trying to find out exactly what I could about this record. The record in which I speak of is none other than “Do It Your Way” aka: The Smiley Face record by Chuck Colbert & Rory O.  I’ll be honest in saying that the record over all is not that great in my opinion but the first seconds of the opening drum break is pure delight.  The first time I ever heard this break was on Marley Marls Juice Crew record The Symphony. I also, remember this break used for Kool G Rap & Polo “Money In The Bank”

I picked this record to feature because of it’s odd rare novelty. It was never officially released or for sale. It was a promo only item given out by the city of Milwaukee to promote their “Summerfest” concert series. I contacted them to see what information they could give me on it. Oddly enough they knew nothing of it!

So who exactly was responsible for discovering this break? I had a friend that interned at the NYC studio where Marley did all his recording at the time. He told me that all the rappers used to bring Marley the records they wanted to use and he would sample and program them because he knew how to work the equipment. Well I shot the diabolical Biz Markie a phone call to get to the bottom of this! Biz recalls:

“I discovered the record and brought it to Marley to sample” (My friend was right.) So once again we have a rare oddball record that Biz Markie discovered adding to his hip hop legacy even more…

The thing is not too long after the Symphony was out I was over at DJ Shadows place and he asked if I had the “Smiley Face” record. I had no idea what he was talking about and he told me it’s the breakbeat they used on the Symphony and he showed me the record. He had stumbled up on it by luck while out digging for 45’s… So it was solidifed. I knew that there was a 45 called the “Smiley Face” record and the break from the Symphony was on it. My hunt for copies was on… What I didn’t know is who the artist was or what label it was on. I called Soulman from Philly to see if he was up on this record and true indeed he was. Only because Diamond D was searching for it and asked him if he had a copy. Soulman did obtain a copy in a trade with another dealer not to long afterwards. (This was in the early/mid 90’s).

DJ/Collector Beni B from ABB records called me asking did I know about a “Smiley Face” record. Yep, I sure did. I just didn’t have a copy or even know who the actual artist was or what label it was on. None of those factors stopped me from looking. I finally gave up after ten years of searching and only two people I knew personally that owned a copy. DJ Shadow and Soulman.

It was brought back to my attention when Soulman sent me a copy of one of his mix cds and he was wearing a t shirt with the “Smiley Face” on it. I hit him up trying to pry his copy away from him and that was not happening! So there I was back on my beat mission… During the research I was doing for this write up I recalled that Large Pro used it for the Kool G Rap joint so I hit him up to see where he obtained his copy, how he knew about and what he could tell me about it. His exact words were:

“I don’t have the record and never did” – “I was at Pete Rock’s house and he had them (the drums) on an sp-1200 disc” – “He let me copy the disc”

So, wow Large Pro didn’t even have the record…. I hit Pete Rock up after talking to Large but I got a big fat zero response out of him. I obtained my copy around 2004 by placing an ad on Milwaukee’s Craigslist stating I was looking for this record and I posted a picture of it. One dealer stepped forward and had a copy I got on the cheap. He said he thought he had more but turned out he didn’t. I’ve seen three copies on ebay since then selling for as high as $600!

I called Diamond D this morning to ask him about it since he was the one that originally was asking Soulman for a copy. He told me he has never found one and he knew of it from Mark the 45 King asking him if he had it. I know it was a topic on soulstrut in the past and after seeing the article someone went out that same day and found a copy for $3. Well it’s the year 2011 now and breakbeats aren’t important to some as they were in the mid 90’s and the internet gives you almost all the information you need on things. You can youtube this record and it pops right on up. When Cosmo asked if I’d do a guest column for breakbeat Tuesday I already knew exactly what record I was going to choose. I just had to track people down and see what I could find out about it which isn’t much. I found out it’s rare. Who knows how many were even pressed up? You’re mostly likely to find it in Milwaukee if at all. I know of 5 people personally that actually own a copy. Sharing is caring and I offer to you today none other than “Do It Your Way” aka: The Smiley Face record.

Chuck Colbert & Rory O’ “Do It Your Way”

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