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On December 15th, 2001 one of the funkiest men on Stax, former radio DJ, Stax recording artist, television host, singer, songwriter, producer, comedian and dancer-Rufus C. Thomas Jr. passed away in Memphis, Tennessee. The Cayce, Mississippi native got his start acting and tap dancing after his family moved to Memphis, in the 1920s, when he was still a child. By his teens, he was working with Nat D. Williams at the infamous WDIA radio station in Memphis (Black radio). He was also the master of ceremonies at the talent shows held at The Palace Theater on Beale Street. In his late teens he attended Tennessee State University for a semester before pursuing music full-time. He was a member of The Rabbit Foot Minstrels in 1936-acting as part-time host, comedian, and dancer. He started a dance/comedy duo, with Robert Bones Couch, called Rufus & Bones. The two hosted The Palace Theater shows, discovering such acts as B.B. King, Johnny Ace, and Bobby Bland.
His vocal and comedic stage presence where heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong, Gatemouth Moore (Bluesman, DJ & Reverend), and Fats Waller (Jazz pianist who passed away Dec 15th, 1943). Thomas started performing original songs by the early 40s, honing his writing, singing, and stage skills. In 1950, he made his recording debut on Star Talent Records out of Dallas with I’ll Be a Good Boy b/w I’m So Worried. By this time, Thomas had been in the game over 25 years-and was still trying to make a name for himself. It would take him 40 years before he had a hit with 1963’s Walking The Dog. He went on to record several funky songs on Stax during the 60s and 70s (Push n Pull, The Breakdown, Funky Chicken, Funky Penguin). He also recorded some duets with his daughter Carla, who was also a successful solo vocalist on Stax. Thomas stuck with his goal and didn’t rest until it came into fruition, I can respect that. The R&B And Blues Hall Of Fame singer was 84 years-old when he died.
On December 15th, 1936, one of the lesser-known "Urban" authors of the early 70s, that accurately depicted The Black Experience in ghettos across the nation-Donald Goines was born in Detroit, Michigan. Goines' writings were heavily influenced by his adult lifestyle, and the pimp turned author Iceberg Slim (Robert Beck). Before Slim started publishing his books, works on The Black Experience were largely regulated to scholars, speaking on behalf of the impoverished, but not necessarily being a direct participant in the situation. Slim & Goines transformed that trend. He is said to be a direct illegitimate descendant of Jefferson Davis-as told to him by his mother. He had an older and younger sister.
When he was 15, he enlisted in the US Air Force and fought in the Korean War. When he returned to the states, he started messing with heroine and got into writing. At first he wanted to write westerns; but decided on urban fiction after reading Iceberg Slim’s Pimp: The Story Of My Life. Goines was in and out of prison a lot due to his drug addiction. While in Jackson Penitentiary (Jackson, MI), he began writing his first book Dopefiend (1971). He was a voracious writer, completing most of his books in a month. He wrote 16 in all between 1971-1974. His amassed so many novels, in such a short time, that his publisher had him use a pseudonym Al C. Clark-so as not to over saturate the shelves with his novels. Several East Coast Hip Hop Emcees, that have a ‘street’ style, consider Goines’ writings to be food for thought-as well as serving as a blueprint for their art of story telling based on their own experiences (Mobb Deep, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Capone-N-Norega). He was 37 years-old when he passed away.
On December 15th, 1934, jazz trombonist, sideman, composer, arranger, bandleader, and jazz educator-Curtis DuBois Fuller (l, Lee Morgan c, Trane r)was born in Detroit, Michigan. Fuller has an interesting history and musical career. His parents were Jamaican; and both of them died when he was very young. He grew up in an orphanage, and was good friends with Donald Byrd and Paul Chambers. All of them having attended the same school. He was also closely associated with Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, and Thad Jones. He enlisted in The US Army in 1953, and played in The Army Band with Nat Adderley, Cannonball Adderley, and Paul Chambers from 1953-1955. When he returned to Detroit, he joined Yusef Lateef’s Quintet, staying with them from 1955-1957.
The band moved to NYC, and Fuller recorded his first LP as a bandleader New Trombone (Prestige Records-1957). He released seven LPs in 1957, on five different imprints: Prestige, New Jazz, Status, Blue Note & Regent. The majority of his discography is from 1957 to 1983 (over 25 LPs); but he’s released an LP as recently as 2010. As a sideman, he played live with Miles in the late 50s. He was a featured sideman on recordings with the following: Count Basie, Jackie McLean, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Blue Mitchell, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Houston Person, David "Fathead" Newman, Jimmy Heath, Freddie Hubbard, John Coltrane, Quincy Jones, Wayne Shorter, Art Farmer, Jimmy Smith, Dizzy, Lou Donaldson, Stanley Turrentine, and Gil Evans to name a few. He’s an NEA Jazz Master; and continues to educate youth at The New York State Summer School of the Arts School of Jazz Studies. He’s 84 today.
On December 15th, 1929, Jazz pianist, composer, arranger, producer, sideman, bandleader, and educator-Barry Doyle Harris was born in Detroit, Michigan. Harris started playing piano when he was four. His mother taught him. She was a pianist for her church. As he got older, he began to play Jazz, being influenced by Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk recordings. He would imitate their solos, playing by ear, and learning the BeBop technique. In the early to 50s, he was mostly a sideman for acts that were based in Detroit or that came through on tour. He played with Miles Davis, Thad Jones, Sonny Stitt, Max Roach and Gene Ammons. He recorded his debut LP as a bandleader in 1958 "Breakin’ It Up" (Argo Records).
In the 60s he started teaching Jazz music, worked with Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet, Dexter Gordon, Yusef Lateef, Illinois Jacquet, Hank Mobly and Coleman Hawkins (mostly at The Village Vanguard). In the 70s he moved in with Thelonious Monk, and would sit in occasionally at rehearsals for the piano phenom (while leading his own band). He took his band overseas to Europe and Japan during the mid-70s. By the early 80s, he was back in the states and dedicated the majority of his time to educating the youth at The Jazz Cultural Workshop in NYC (8th Ave). He’s an NEA Jazz Master (1989), American Jazz Hall Of Fame member, earned an honorary degree from Northwestern University, has penned over 35 compositions, recorded over 20 LPs as a bandleader, and is featured on over 50 LPs-as a sideman-with over 30 different musicians. He continues to perform, record, educate, and compose. He’s 89 today.
On December 15th, 1946, vocalist and member of both The Moments-and Ray, Goodman & Brown-Harry Ray was born in Longbranch, New Jersey. Ray didn’t join The Moments until 1970. By this time, several members had left, Al Goodman and William Brown were all that remained. Goodman’s voice was on the fritz from overuse; so Ray sang lead. The group was managed by Sylvia Robinson (soon to be Sugarhill Records owner), recording on the Stang and All Platinum imprints. Ray’s lead falsetto would bring the vocal trio several hits during the early 70s: Sexy Mama (#3), Look At Me (#1) and If I Didn’t Care (#7).
Sexy Mama is one of their funkiest mid-tempo ballads that’s been sampled by Lord Finesse, of D.I.T.C., and numerous others. Another sampled track they made is their duet song with The Whatnauts Girls. With the band Ray (c), Goodman (r) and Brown (l-name changed due to legal issues over royalties and ownership of the name-Sylvia Robinson)-Harry is featured on their smash single Special Lady. For the beat heads though, he’s singing backing vocals on Another Day which was sampled by Grand Puba for Brand Nubian’s Wake Up (Sunshine) remix. Harry Ray continued to perform and write songs up to his death in 1992. He was 45 when he dies from a stroke.
Honorable Mention: On December 15th, in 1919, the man that owned the farm that hosted the 1969 musical festival known as Woodstock-Max Yasgur was born in NYC, NY. He got $10K for leasing out his farm for the concert. 69 years old, at the time, Yasgur was overwhelmingly shocked by the 150,000 or more people that attended the event. He was shunned by the local community after the concert, and received $500,000 in a settlement suit related to the damages to his farm. He passed away four years after Woodstock took place in 1973 (age 53).
On December 15th, in 1921, the DJ that coined the term Rock "N" Roll, Alan Freed (Albert James Freed) was born in Windber, Pennsylvania. Freed worked as a DJ and concert promoter in the Midwest (mostly Ohio). Instead of playing cover songs of Black artists, he played the originals and called the music Rock ‘n’ Roll. He’s quoted as saying "Rock ‘n’ Roll is a river of music which has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, ragtime, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. They’ve all contributed greatly to the big beat." He was 43 when he died.
On December 15th in 1961, Hollywood film director, writer and producer-Reginald Hudlin was born in Centreville, Illinois (near St. Louis). Hudlin is most known for writing and directing the film House Party with Kid ‘n’ Play, Martin Lawrence, Full Force, and Robin Harris. He got the idea when he was an undergrad at Howard U. He directed Boomerang, and Black Panther (animated 2010). He produced Django & Cosmic Slop; and directed several TV shows and music videos. He’s one of the few Blacks in Hollywood that serves as a producer, writer and director. The award-winning Hudlin turns 57 today.
On December 15th, 2008, the childhood home of legendary Rock ‘n’ Roll guitarist, songwriter, singer, producer, and performer-Chuck Berry was added to The National Register Of Historic Places. The red-brick home is located at 3137 Whittier street in St. Louis, Missouri. It was originally built in 1910. The Rock Icon said the following when asked about the honor: "Many of my favorite songs came about while in that house. It's good to know that my music, and now that house will always be a part of St. Louis' history."
For more information on any musician or event reviewed in posts, or for additional information on the Wandering Eyes Blog overall, use the search bar and search the artist or event using keywords. It’s like a Google search for the site. A myriad of information, covering several topics exists on this site going back to 2013 when it was created. PEACE!