The Twisted Case Of The Weird Playlist
My playlist got a little weird last week. It all began with a version of Paint it Black, the Stones’ song from 1966. The version, a cover, was stunning: slower and with none of the original lyrics. There was an Afro-beat and a funky feel to it, replete with congas and stuff. It was rather good. Instead of the original lyrics, the band covering it occasionally chanted “Paint it black”, pronouncing black as ‘Blaak’. I got curious and found out that the cover version was by a band, or rather, a collective, called Africa who put out just one album in 1968 called Music From Lil Brown. I later found that that Music from Lil Brown was an African-American response to Music From Big Pink, the debut album from The Band, which, of course, is the Canadian-American band that got fame because it was Bob Dylan’s back-up band but which on its own was easily one of the best rock bands that I’ve heard.
Music From Big Pink had The Band classics such as Tears of Rage, To Kingdom Come, The Weight, The Wheel’s On Fire and Lonesome Suzie. At my home, that album, originally released in 1968, still spins regularly.
Excited by my discovery that Music From Lil Brown was a ‘black’ response to Big Pink, I set about trying to find that album and drew a blank. No downloads on the net. Nothing in the iTunes store and just a couple of tracks from a blog—Paint it Black, of course, and another song, Here I Stand. Music From Lil Brown has little to do with Music From Big Pink. In fact, the two couldn’t have been more different. The former is a confecta of soul, R&B and Afro-beat tunes; and the latter is, well, you better know what that famous album is (if not, go back and read the last paragraph!).
I mentioned at the outset that my playlist has some weird things happening to it of late. The other thing on it, after the two Africa numbers, is a podcast called Rhythm Room. It’s actually from a radio station called WWOZ, a local station in New Orleans and a station to which almost every establishment’s radios are continuously tuned in to in New Orleans. Anyway, on one episode of the podcast from WWOZ, I discovered a musician whom I’d never heard before. Johnny Jenkins. A left-handed blues guitarist, Jenkins helped launch Otis Redding’s career by hiring Redding as a singer in his band before Redding became a legend. Jenkins also influenced another left-handed guitarist, Jimi Hendrix. The song on the podcast was Sick and Tired, a track from Jenkins’ 1970 album, Ton Ton Macoute! (don’t ask me why it was called so; Haiti’s Papa Doc Duvalier’s infamous secret police were called by that name!). But the interesting thing is that the album was produced by Duane Allman just before Allman formed, along with his brother, Greg, the Allman Brothers Band. Duane plays electric guitar, slide and the dobro on the album, which is one piece of work that I want to acquire.
The other music that found itself to my playlist is by Macfarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey. That’s quite a mouthful so that is perhaps why Mackey recorded under the name Exuma, which is a district in the Bahamas, the islands that he was a native of. Exuma moved to New York and in the early 1960s began performing his singular (a mix of calypso, reggae and African music) in Greenwich Village. Exuma died in 1997 at 54 but not before releasing several albums and influencing or playing with bands and musicians as diverse as Bob Dylan and Hendrix, BlackFlag and Steppenwolf and Peter Tosh. I tried to look for Exuma and Exuma II, his first two albums, and couldn’t find them. I then settled for his 1973 album, Reincarnation, which is also currently spinning at home. It’s got a nice rollicking reggae-infused variety of rock that’s full of energy. A good find.
Foxygen, the LA band that is influenced by everyone from The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and the Kinks to a whole raft of other seventies’ bands, and yet has a sound that is characteristically their own, have their new album out. It’s called We Are the 21st century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, and it has nine songs that are worth putting on repeat. Foxygen is band that promises to go places.