“There are three challenges in my life. The first is being Black in a White culture. The second is being transgendered in a heteronormative culture. The third is being an artist in a business culture.”
“Freedom Suite was Sonny Rollins’ protest, but he didn’t need to utter a word or sound a full-throated roar through his reed. It’s not a raised fist, and never needs to shriek. Freedom Suite is so disarming that you might not recognize it for a protest anthem at all.”
An unbelievable honor to have my name appear on a Sonny Rollins record. At the height of his career, Rollins cut Freedom Suite, his brief liner notes throwing down a gauntlet in 1958: “How ironic that the Negro, who more than any other people can claim America’s culture as his own, is being persecuted and repressed, that the Negro, who has exemplified the humanities in his very existence, is being rewarded with inhumanity.”
The album was quickly retracted and butchered by his label. They changed the cover, title, and put the massive title suite on the b-side. I wrote the liner notes that accompany the new Vinyl Me, Please reissue of the album. You can order it here.
“I was pretty lost. I had a real identity crisis after it was over. I questioned my own validity as an artist. I left my recording studio one day and didn’t turn it on for 10 years.”
I got the chance to chat with Eddie Chacon for the New York Times. Chacon’s curious tale winds through the likes of Cliff Burton, Uncle Luke, The Dust Brothers, Daddy-O, and a Sir Elton John co-sign, before arriving at the rarefied space that is his new album, Pleasure, Joy and Happiness. Call it R&Bient, the Lewis album Laraaji never made, or what Marvin Gaye with Martin Rev might have sounded like, it’s a dreamy little listen.
“Sarah has a real gift for using the palette of sound. Her guitar tone is classic, precise, and could have been on a Ventures or Shadows instrumental. But there’s a brooding and undulating maelstrom that she develops until finally it’s just blasting. I like the emotion but also the intelligence.” Anxious, turbulent, foreboding –but with stunning glimpses of great beauty– I went deep on Sarah Lipstate’s pandemic-friendly soundscapes.
“I got this husband and these two cats, so that’s theoretically three boys I have to clean up after. But there’s no coping. I posted something [on social media] about being hunkered down and holding on in West Orange, ‘I got some champagne and I got a good smoke.’ You talk about coping! If I didn’t have this champagne and this marijuana here, I’d have a story to tell you.”
I spoke with some of our most cherished musical elders about the perils of working and surviving during the pandemic, including Gary Bartz, Laraaji, Terry Allen, Hailu Mergia, and Ms. Bettye LaVette.
In 2017, I was invited to Robert Northern’s home in Takoma Park to chat about the music collected in Divine Music. With news of his passing today, I’m posting the full interview from this box set. I think often about his story about playing music for the wild animals in the Ngorongoro crater:
“I was going to stop playing music as a career. I felt that with all this mess, we didn’t need another musician. I was ready for the Black Panthers, or to leave the country or something. I knew I had to do something.”
“You look at early rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, soul music, there were hundreds and hundreds of small labels in Memphis that were saying ‘why not me?’ Of course, there are hundreds of reasons for ‘Why not them,’ but they still persevered and cut a record.” Deep into the Mississippi mud of a Singing Dentist, a future prophetess boogie-fying Pigmeat Markham’s “Order in the Court,” and Gutbucket Chic, this is a great comp for fans of Dâm-Funk, PPU, and the like.