Women and Drinking Songs
This is a continuation from another post titled Music Appreciation, a thing I'll continue to do as the mood dictates. Pandora played a song for me by Mikki Howard that I'd never heard before. I liked the song so much (lyrics, voice, music) that I wondered what other songs had been recorded by women about drinking and getting high. It's usually men who record get high songs, so I did some research and what I found interested me. I'm sure there are many other songs, but let's start with Mikki Howard's Beer For Breakfast. This song is so fonky. The bassline alone. My My. Enjoy!
Let's go back and pick up some classical blues. Here's Bessie Smith singing Me and My Gin, "Don't try me nobody, cause you will never win. . ."
Nina Simone recorded Me and My Gin under the name Gin House Blues. Her rendition, though upbeat, is still the blues. Of course Nina on the piano. This is a live version. Unfortunately no video. Imagine being in that audience.
Lil Johnson is one of my favorite blues singers. Her songs tell it like it is, like this one, Let's Get Drunk and Truck, "You know my other man is out of town. Your other woman she's not around. Now is the time to break em down, let's get drunk and truck."
Ruth Brown. The song is not about drinking, but it is about confidence in what you got. If I Can't Sell It, I'll Sit on It, "This is not St. Vincent DePaul."
Let's slow it down a pace for Dinah Washington singing Drinking Again. I grew up with Dinah's voice in the house from my older siblings, Dorothy, Evelyn, Sonny and Jerome. This is the kind of music they listened to. I'm glad they did. Their choices in music helped lay a solid foundation for the soundtrack of my life.
Listening to Dinah made me think about Nancy Wilson, who passed a few days ago. Their voices are close in texture and mood. I couldn't find any drinking songs by Nancy. But I did remember she did a commercial for Stroh's Beer. Once at a concert at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, she sang the commercial for us. Here's Nancy at the recording session. Watch Nancy's expression when the man wants to go through it once for her, as if she needs help interpreting a little ditty.
Smokin Room by Rufus and Chaka Khan presents another thing. I guess the song is open to interpretation but I think it's about a woman who wishes to take the relationship beyond just having fun and getting high. See what you think.
We'll let Billie Holiday end this post with Ain't Nobody's Business if I Do, "If I go to church on Sunday then cabaret all day Monday, ain't nobody's business if I do."
Hope you enjoyed this installment of Music Appreciation.
Happy creating. Good vibes to all that you write, sing, compose, sculpt, build, whatever you are doing. Stay in the groove!
Oh, but wait. I found this. Aretha singing Drinking Again. Had to include my girl.
Back in the day someone would buy a new album, a dime bag and adult beverages. There would be food and friends all converging to relax and listen, our version of music appreciation. Most often the sounds were instrumental—jazz, and R&B from popular singing groups that also wrote and played their own music, like War. I remember once the celebration centered on the soundtrack from a movie scored by Quincy Jones. Some of the pieces were short bursts of musical energy that probably represented some lively thing happening on the screen. Other pieces were longer. Quincy took no shortcuts. Each piece, whether brief or extensive, was a fully realized composition. I don’t remember the name of the movie. I do remember the fun we had that night, partaking and listening to Quincy’s creativity.
If you are still a partaker of adult stimulants, or if your mind is sufficiently stimulated without help, sit back and enjoy this version of music appreciation.
This morning on Pandora, the first song played was Aretha singing Today I Sing The Blues, recorded in 1960. Aretha was 18. Today I Sing The Blues is an old standard, but I’d never heard Aretha’s rendition. A lot of her songs have a Blues foundation, like Dr. Feelgood and many others. But this is clearly the Blues, straight, no chaser.
As one thing often leads to another, my mind took a turn from Aretha and met up with Pharaoh Sanders. Here’s The Creator Has a Master Plan, recorded live in Leverkusen, Germany, October 19, 1999. Prayer, revolution, lust, sensuality, a spiritual convocation. The piano sounds like a waterfall, the bass is both thunder and rain, the drums punch heart beats, and Pharaoh is the echo between two mountains, wa guitar, and percussion. Pretty music.
“This is what he said,” is Jennifer Hudson’s introduction to her live interpretation of Al Green’s Simply Beautiful at Kennedy Center Honors. Just listen…
For Eddie and the Cruisers fans. This is one of my favorite love songs ever. Sung here by the real “Cruisers,” writer and singer of all the movie’s original songs, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. Tender Years.
Next is a cut from the video and film, Take Me To The River, featuring Bobby Blue Bland and Yo Gotti, on Ain’t No Sunshine, a little old and new fusion, “built for bad weather.”
I mentioned War in the introduction. This next cut, City Country City, is from their album The World is a Ghetto. I remember precisely the time and place of this musical appreciation session. I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Gold was good, and War produced a multi-layered sound, all instruments speaking beautiful music together. When you concentrate, you hear the conversation, the push, the pull back: rhythm guitar, bass, organ, horn, trap drums, congas and other percussive instruments. Never get tired of this one.
It's funny how language transcends, is borrowed and shared. For instance, when I was in Ireland in 2010, I noticed people saying “ta,” to mean thank you. It reminded me of my mother saying “ta ta,” to the little ones when she was teaching “thank you.”
We began this post with the Blues and will end with Johnny Guitar Watson singing I Want To Ta Ta You Baby.
Happy listening! Hope this post inspires you to create something wonderful today.
This morning, Thursday, August 16, 2018, Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul, stepped from this life into the realm of ever, everlasting. Her voice defined music. She was composer and arranger. She taught herself how to play the piano and she sang everything. Here's Aretha back in the day on the Martha Steward Show. When Martha asked about the song she played and sang, Aretha explained that it was Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, "an old English folk song with a little Bach in the middle."
Everyone is writing about and commenting on Aretha. Most of what I have read and heard is heartfelt and passionate. Some people, however, need to tell us whether or not she was raised by her mother, or how old Aretha was when she had her first baby. If it is shame we want to expose, what of the baby father? Why must girls and women continue to bear the brunt of stigmata. I got pregnant at 17. This is called life. Aretha's situations informed her creative juices, her outlook on whatever may befall, and dared the world to decide if she was copy or the real thing. When we talk of love or the lack of it, I think "Baby Baby Baby" is her best tragic love story work, she sings, "I'm bewildered, I'm lonely and I'm loveless. . ."
When Angela Davis was arrested for her supposed part in Jonathan Jackson's plan to release his brother, George, from prison, Aretha offered to pay Angela's bond, stating: “Angela Davis must go free. . .Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace." (Read Soledad Brothers, Chicago Review Press, 1994). Here's Aretha singing Nina Simone's "Young Gifted and Black." Thanks to Hans Linden for uploading the song and carefully curating the photos.
I won't write about "Respect." I know "Respect," is generally everyone's favorite song. Back in the day, we liked that song, but Aretha had so many songs and we considered some of the others more pertinent. I'm talking about the kind of songs where we had to sit and think about the lyrics and why she was singing them the way she did. For example, if some boy approached with some ole okey doke, we could readily say, boy, you must be running out a fools. Later in the 1980's, we could say something like, really? Who zooming who? Thank you to Soul Roulette for posting this video of Aretha singing "Running out of Fools" on the TV show, Shindig, from 1964.
The very first album I purchased with money I earned from a summer job was "I Never Loved a Man." I remember listening to those lyrics, not fully understanding most of them, but falling in love with the voice that sang them. She addressed my feelings about my little young boyfriends in ways that I could not express. Later, when I found myself in stupid relationships with men, and not strong enough to set myself free, Aretha's lyrics, still deep in the recesses of my mind, got me through. Thank you to allaretha.wordpress.com for posting this 45, "Sweet Bitter Love" from 1965, both "A" and "B" sides.
There really is no difference between R&B, the Blues, Jazz, or Gospel. Each reflects some version of life, our downs, our ups, our holy combinations and everything in between. When Aretha sang "Running Out of Fools," she could have been singing "Oh Mary Don't You Weep." The combination of Quincy Jones and Aretha on the album "Hey Now Hey" produced some Blues so raunchy, we hear Aretha talking about how she feel like "somebody just slapped her with a nasty gym shoe."
Another song I want to introduce you to, or have you remember is "Try a Little Tenderness." I was seventeen, pregnant, confused, abused and generally ashamed of my life. The first version was done by Otis Redding. I had the 45 playing on my little record player. You had to sit close in order to hear the music and I remember thinking, wow, tenderness. I didn't know how to give it, or ask for it, but I knew I wanted it. I played that 45 so much the face of it turned white. Aretha did it later, put it in first person, made it more relevant. Chris Brown did it also for the movie "This Christmas." Here's Aretha's version.
What I think about Aretha is that she was a down to earth woman, daughter, sister and mother, born with that voice. She never had a face lift or any other kind of cosmetic surgery that I know of. She aged. She was and is forever. She had no need for playacting, no need for any theater of the absurd. You could take her, or leave her. She was holy, in the way that Marvin sings it at the end of Let's Get I On, "I been sanctified," meaning set apart, made legitimate, purified, unburdened, redeemed.
Always when an icon such as Aretha Franklin leaves this earth, people emerge, try to copy the style and grace of the legend. For example, there's a girl on this season's America's Got Talent who is all the rage with her renditions of James Brown. Everyone is over the moon about her, but I would say to her, what is it about your own life that informs your creative juices, your outlook? What about you will tell the world whether or not you are copy, or the real thing?
On the other hand, there is this desire to add our voices to what has already been created. The other's work inspires us, and motivates us to see what else can be done. We don't want to paint another Starry Night, nor quilt another Gee's Bend quilt. We want to take the feeling we derive from these works and create our own majesty. Here is Aretha creating her own "It Was You," first written and recorded by James Brown.
That's Aretha on the piano for "It Was You," and it happened during a rehearsal session complete with full band. Some of the recordings from those rehearsal sessions became the album "Aretha Arrives." When I listen to this album, I realize that even the great ones have to practice. We hear Aretha saying things like: let's start over, and that will be a good one when it's right. What's really telling is the rehearsal rendition of "Dr. Feel Good." She sings it almost on the other side of the beat of the finished project. As an artist, Aretha empowers my many, many tries.
I will probably add more to this post, but I was compelled to write something now because of complete sadness and wanting to celebrate Aretha's life. A candle is lit for Aretha on my Ancestor Altar and if it is as we think it is on the other side, there's much rejoicing going on over there. Here's Aretha with James Cleveland and the Southern California Choir.
P.S. August 17, 2018
I forgot this one, "My Song," which is literally, my song: "your leaving makes my heart beat slow and slow. . ." Aretha on the piano, "you left me, singing a song."
The idea of “still life,” (the representation of inanimate objects, such as fruit, in paintings or photography) intrigues me. One day, I set out arranging and rearranging items in pleasing manners to take photographs. Maybe for quilt ideas, or if the images came out real good, to frame and hang on my walls. The image I liked best is this one: my shoes, hat, guitars, quilt, water, glass, magic leaves.
If you are a fledging musician, like me, and your timing is cockeyed, and you can't get your fingers to move fluently over the guitar strings, from one chord to the next, my advice is to study Tupac (Gangsta Party and California Love; both music and video) and Muddy Waters (Champagne and Reefer, and Too Young To Know. Search youtube for old footage of Muddy.)
Both of these artists radiate music through voice, timing, and percussion. In Gangsta Party, there is no slide in, no pause: "Picture perfect," before we realize the verse has even begun. In Too Young to Know, Muddy sings/narrates, but the conversation is between young girls and the more mature women who knows very well. Both are lightening and thunder. Spontaneity, exaggeration and craft. I honor them. They are more than inspiration, they motivate me to add my voice to the conversation.
So, the mind as mixture, seemingly askew, but not, simply bubbling excitement, and these artists, with our shared origins, led me to go back further, to research other artists and was there such a thing as homemade stringed instruments. This is a sampling of what I found.
Stunning beauty and creativity all around the African continent and the Diaspora. The images are excitement and contagious. The artists have the nerve to create, are in possession of the artists' way. Create, no matter what. So I thought, what if? The following is Blue Belle, my homemade cigar box guitar.
I’m writing a book on my experiences using Tarot, and want to dispel the notion of negativity as relates to magic, spellwork, and divination. What is the etymology of the word “spell,” what does the word really mean and what are its origins. From the American Heritage College Dictionary:
My next burgeoning project began as songs, just me playing around with lyrics and guitar chords. One of the songs that emerged, White Night Falling, seemed a strong contender for the main voice of something. I just didn’t know what.
Artists, you know that in these times of seemingly jumbled information, the thing to do is wait, listen to day and night dreams, believe and ask the question, what if?
So I thought--
What if the project was poems and music?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What if the project expanded to include other written forms?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What if the title and book cover had to do with trance states, magic words, the awesome-ness of still lives, those inanimate objects that portray the power of seemingly motionless form?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What of heterodoxy, the challenge of taking the least walked or new path?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What if you include a cd of musical forms and selected poems?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
The project birthed itself as The Book of Spells, became a bubbling cauldron, a mixture of picture perfect swerving heterodoxy, something like Tupac and Muddy Waters making low down music on angel harps. Make. Do. Become. “Lick candle wicks. Wish. Work spells. Pounce.”
This collection is continuing to move through my need to tell it what to do. The collection is teaching me to shut up and let it tell me. It's in it's eighth iteration. Here's me learning patience.
Steps one through five on one version of creativity:
The following shows how Steps 1 -5 can be translate into actual production:
1. Initial inspiration.
One day I searched goodreads.com for something to read and found a book titled All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave, edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, The Feminist Press, 1982.
2. My feeble attempt to create something.
The title, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave, inspired me to write a poem about how I think black women are, and are not, seen in the media, particularly television and movies. It was an OK poem.
3. The actual inspiration.
One day, as I was looking for an image online, instead of the image I was searching for, the ancestors gave me the following image:
The image shows a little girl. She is no older than 10. She and the other children are slaves. While the mothers of the babies are working the field, the older child watches the children. She is the babysitter.
4. Listening ears
A tiny, soft voice began talking to me. She spoke in a tiny, soft voice, but as a rebel, with clear, concise, emotionless directions. She woke me up. I reached for my notebook just in time to catch her initial thoughts: "Of all the dandelions, it’s me, I am the most beautiful.”
5. Free-flow writing
I said, “Yes Berthenia. You are the most beautiful. I sat at the computer. She continued to speak and I transcribed her words. She even sent me back to retrieve the initial OK poem I had written inspired by the book title, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave.
It was an easy fix. Berthenia showed me my mistakes, and how to re-imagine the poem so that it could take its rightful place in her story.
The name, Berthenia Belle, entered the session in the midst of Berthenia's narration.
Berthenia is an artist: songwriter, musician, craftswoman. She gave me the lyrics to one of her songs, and she created her own Diddley Bow.
Back in 2016, I was beginning to teach myself how to play guitar because some of my poems wanted to be songs. In researching early musicians, especially Blues musicians, I wondered what they played before the guitar, as we know the guitar today. One of the instruments they played was the Diddley Bow.
The following pictures show my Diddley Bow. It is nailed to a door frame in my kitchen. The door frame surrounds my Ilé `Ọrun (my family ancestor shrine or altar).
As was the custom, Berthenia's Diddley Bow is nailed to the front porch post of the cabin where she lived with the babies.
Berthenia Belle, the most beautiful flower. Thank you for your life, your power, your struggle, your creativity.
I thank God for Berthenia Belle, this brave child, this wondrous woman baby girl.
Some of the ancestors are children.
Berthenia Belle spoke her story to me as one long, book length poem.
Find Berthenia Belle, a poem, here.
This is how we listen. This is how we create.
Read more about the Diddley Bow
Hear Mr. One String Sam, below singing My Baby Don't
Mr. Moses Williams playing Diddley Bow, 1984
Photo Credit: Graham, Andrea, Collector. Moses Williams playing the diddley bow - Orlando, Florida. 1984. Color slide. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 28 Jun. 2017.<https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/121981>.
Children Creating Music on Didley Bow
This is a blog about how we make things.