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On December 11th, 1926, singer, songwriter, harmonica player, drummer, writer of the song Ball & Chain, infamous vocalist on Hound Dog, the woman who could sing so powerfully that she didn’t need a microphone, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Innovator-Big Mama Thornton (Willie Mae Thornton) was born in Ariton, Alabama. She’s a Blues Hall of Fame artist (inducted in 1984) that taught herself how to play drums and blow harp. She describes her style best through her own words: "My singing comes from my experience. My own experience. I never had no one teach me nothing. I never went to school for music or nothing. I taught myself to sing and to blow harmonica and even to play drums by watching other people! I can't read music, but I know what I'm singing! I don't sing like nobody but myself."
She further describes the uniqueness of her voice stating: "when I was coming up, listening to Bessie Smith and all, they sung from their heart and soul and expressed themselves. That's why when I do a song by Jimmy Reed or somebody, I have my own way of singing it. Because I don't want to be Jimmy Reed, I want to be me. I like to put myself into whatever I'm doing so I can feel it." Thornton was performing with The Hot Harlem Revue when she was 14. Her musical inspiration came from Gospel, the industry labeled her a Blues singer-like most Black vocalists during her time, there were three major categories the industry would pigeon hole them into: Jazz, Blues, & R&B. In my opinion, Big Mama was the definition of Soul, just like she states in her quote. The "Soul" in music can be heard throughout genres-it’s when a person can convey their feelings clearly, this is not limited to one genre, it’s universal. She was 57 years-old when she passed (1984).
JAZZ: On December 11th, in 1938, Jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, arranger, producer and original member of John Coltrane’s Quartet-(Alfred) McCoy Tyner was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tyner is unique in that he started playing music later than most Jazz artists, he didn’t start learning how to play the piano until he was 13. He lived near two infamous Jazz musicians-Bud & Richie Powell. I’m not sure if he learned anything from them directly, but I’m sure living near the artists helped verify his aspirations, and serve as a constant reminder for him to keep his focus on music. Tyner converted to Islam when he was 17, changed his name to Sulieman Saud, continuing the trend many Jazz musicians were doing due to the times and new Black conscious movement (post-Harlem Renaissance).
By the time he was 21, he was playing with Art Farmer, and later that year in Coltrane’s quartet with Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass. Tyner stayed with Trane from 1960-1965. He left after Coltrane’s sound became more of a Free Jazz sound, utilizing wife Alice on keys instead. He also did extensive amounts of session work for Blue Note with Wayne Shorter, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Henderson, and Freddie Hubbard to name a few. His solo work is some of his best music that gets little attention. Most people know him from Trane’s quartet alone. However, if it’s a good Jazz pianist on a recording on Impulse!, Prestige, Blue Note, Telarc or Milestones, from 1960-1975, it’s probably McCoy you’re listening too. For crate diggers, refer to his work on the Milestones imprint, it showcases his cool style-with pauses and runs, like his intro & solo on Trane’s Naima. Tyner is 80 years-old today.
On December 11th, in 1954, Michael Jackson’s older brother, bassist, singer, actor, author, songwriter, producer and original member of the Jackson 5-Jermaine (La Juane) Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana. Jermaine can really play, let me say that. On those early LPs, that’s Jermaine laying the bottom-not the Funk Brothers. You can see him playing on the live show on ABC hosted by Bill Cosby (1971-1972)-Going Back to Indiana (1971) is the LP that features this live set. I always thought the live version of Walk On By was Isaac Hayes, Jermaine plays the bass better than the original during that segment. It’s been sampled by many-most notably The Bomb Squad during the breakdown on Public Enemy’s By The Time I Get To Arizona…the second verse basically.
That flip is Jermaine on bass, the whole version is dope! He also plays piano/keyboards and guitar. Jermaine is a highly skilled musician, much better than Michael when it comes to instruments. He is the 4th child of of 9 children. He comes from an all-star family. His five brothers comprised The Jackson 5 & The Jacksons (Jackie, Tito, Marlon, Michael & Randy). All of them have recorded their own LPs or produced for others. His sisters: Rebbie, La Toya, and Janet have been featured on songs and TV appearances with their brothers, as well as putting out their own LPs and producing others-Janet being the most successful. Jermaine produced songs for Switch and Whitney Houston. He’s a musical force to be reckoned with, don’t sleep on him (64 today).
HIP HOP: On December 11th in 1967, producer, sampler/sequencer user, film director, DJ, drummer, emcee, keyboardist, original member of World Class Wreckin’ Cru & NWA, West Coast Hip Hop innovator and gangsta rap pioneer-DJ Yella (Antoine Carraby) was born in Compton, California. DJ Yella doesn’t get as much credit as he should for his work as a producer on Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records imprint. People think it was Dr. Dre alone that produced most of the early music. However, DJ Yella and Arabian Prince co-produced with Dr. Dre. Yella has production credits for JJ Fad’s Super Sonic LP and he is executive producer on their 1990 release-Not Just a Fad. He also is executive producer on Yomo & Maulkie’s Are U Xperienced LP (1991).
This album contains the original beat that Yella crafted-For The Love Of Money that Eazy-E & Bone Thugs-N-Harmony would use later, and have blow up. Let’s not sleep on his co-production credits on the D.O.C.’s seminal debut-No One Can Do It Better (1989), Michel’le’s self-titled debut in (1989) and Eazy’E’s Eazy Duz It LP (1988). Going to N.W.A.-he co-produced the entire albums for: Straight Outta Compton, 100 Miles & Runnin’ and Nigg@z4Life-with co-writing credits on the latter for: Approach to Danger, Real Nigg@z Don’t Die, I’d Rather F You, She Swallowed It & Real Nigg@z. Yella remained with Eazy up to his death, producing his LPs. He released a solo joint in 1996 that fizzled, and used his royalties from his productions to start his own XXX film company. He was the unsung producer of the crew. He’s 51 today.
"My ears are closest to me, so what I’m saying to you is going for me, cuz we both still growing indeed"… That quote comes from a prolific musician’s song called Little Brother off "The Hurricane" Soundtrack-Mos Def (Born name-Dante Terrell Smith, current name-Yasin Bey). He was born in Brooklyn, NYC, NY on December 11th, in 1973. Mos Def is known for his acting, emceeing, drumming (Umi Says), singing, producing, songwriting skills, poetry and activism. He’s one of the few Hip Hop artists that stayed true to the Culture.
He's manged to keep his music substance-based, referencing all of the elements of Hip Hop in his songs (Writing, B-Boying, Dee Jaying, Emceeing), and funky. His tracks are not the Hot 97 type-they evoke thought, have words with multiple syllables, rely on real life experiences, and are devoid of repetitive phrases like the music of today that’s deemed Hip Hop. A lot of people know Mos Def as an artist, be it for his music, poetry, acting, or activism, he has a recognizable flow, sound, and voice. He played Gangstalicious on "The Boondocks," several different characters (and repeat performer) on "Chappelle's Show," starred in numerous movies like: 16 Blocks, Something The Lord Made, and Lackawanna Blues. He’s a Def Poet, member of The Native Tongues, Black Star and The Soul Aquarians. He turns 45 today.
Honorable Mention: On December 11th, in 1961, bassist, xylophonist, drummer and session musician, Darryl Jones was born in Chicago, Illinois. He got his start on drums and the xylophone, being taught by his pops. He picked up the bass in elementary school, and played his first gig at school with his brother on guitar. He got his professional start in his early 20s with Phil Upchurch and Otis Clay. He’s worked with Miles Davis, Sting, Herbie Hancock, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel and Madonna. He’s 57 today.
On December 11, 1964, we lost the man responsible for bringing us the all-time great song, A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke (Samuel Cooke). He was murdered by The Hacienda Motel clerk-Bertha Franklin. She claims he attacked her at the office, on 9137 South Figueroa St in LA; but that doesn’t add up to the evidence from the murder scene. All Sam had on was a sport coat-so clearly a practically nude man wouldn’t attack a woman in an office. The King Of Soul helped transform the sound of Soul Music for years to come. Without Sam’s A Change Is Gonna Come, Marvin Gaye would not have made What’s Going On, and Syl Johnson wouldn't have made Is It Because I’m Black. He was 33, when he was killed.
On December 11th, 1972, the Godfather of Funk-James Brown was detained by Knoxville, Tennessee police for disorderly conduct. He was arrested following a show he performed in the city, when a man at the concert informed police that Brown was trying to incite a riot. Brown feeling he was acting within his rights, threatened to file a counter-lawsuit against the city for a million dollars. The police dropped the charges, Brown walked free, and they chalked it up as a misunderstanding.
On December 11th, in 2012, Sitar Guru and world renowned Indian musician-Ravi Shankar (Rabindra Shankar Chowdhury) passed away during surgery for a heart valve replacement (San Diego). The Hinduestani Classical Music composer heavily influenced Rock guitarist George Harrison of The Beatles. Harrison learned about Shankar’s music from David Crosby from Crosby Stills, and Nash. Many Rock guitarist's, during the Psychedelic Rock Era, were influenced by Shankar’s compositions-and heplayed sitar on their songs as well. He was 92 when he died.
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!