Again, this was music that played in the house when I was a kid that I worked my way back to after “learning” the songs from other artists. I knew “Work Song” from Nina Simone. I knew “Dat Dere” from Rickie Lee Jones. “Afro Blue” from John Coltrane (the music was actually written by Mongo Santamaria, with Brown’s lyrics coming in 1959 for Abbey Lincoln to debut…)
I actually think it was my mom who was the most ardent OBJ fan in the family and encouraged me to see him if I ever had the chance. The opportunity came at The Jazz Bakery some time in the mid-nineties. Much of this debut record was still in his repertoire, as it should’ve been when you start out with such classics. But what was so remarkable was how the passing of time gave the songs even more depth. OBJ had actually been in advertising before committing to music, and he also had written a musical around the time he started working with Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln on the “We Insist!” record. His performance was something like cabaret in the best way possible, meaning that it was theatrical and the storytelling was precise. And it was so honest, fearless.
I should have started writing this earlier… listen to the music, you’ll get it. Good night…or good morning!
This popped up on a playlist yesterday. It was “Four Women,” I think. It prompted me to listen start to finish. I used to hear this coming from the living room at our house and always wondered who that man was with the funny voice singing. “Break Down and Let it All Out” always kind of got to me in my bedroom down the hall. Flash forward from my memories as and 8-year-old to my 20/21-year-old self, very aware of Ms. Simone. She accompanied me via cassette as I traveled and busked through Europe with my copy of “The Autobiography of Malcom X.” That cassette was with me when I landed on the air-mattress in my dad’s living room in Inglewood.
Somewhere along the line I started singing “Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair” in my shows. I don’t think I knew it was an Irish folk song when I first learned it. It felt like a pure celebration of black beauty. As a mixed kid in this White-ish folk/rock scene, it felt good to sing something #blackAF, unapologetically black. I’d even sometimes do the live version from Nina’s album, “Black Gold,” incorporating her guitarist, Emile Latimer’s take specifically addressing female beauty. His voice is so similar to hers that for many years, I thought Nina was taking a gender flipping approach, which struck me as another genius creative risk for 1969.
One night at Luna Park, this kid from NY was sound-checking before me and he started playing “Lilac Wine,” also from “Wild is the Wind.” Yep, Jeff Buckley. I felt a kindred spirit and he turned out to be an amazing artist and extremely generous with me as I was starting to do shows in NY.
This also makes me laugh, wondering what my dad might have said to his version of “Lilac Wine,” since he chastised me for playing Bowie’s version of “Wild is the Wind” over and over, saying, “Why did that white boy sing Nina’s song?!” Oh, Pops…
I love the idea that in a pre-internet world I was able to mishear, misunderstand, and incorporate these songs into my being, only to have them become even more meaningful as I grew up, listened more, and found others equally moved by this record.
I went down the rabbit hole last night and found I’m REALLY not alone, as Pitchfork named this as number five in the list of best albums of the 1960s, just below “A Love Supreme” and above “Abbey Road.”
Yeah, you don’t even have to mention the name of the artist for those album titles to recall their impact. But in a spiritual way, in an ambitious, poetic way, “Wild is the Wind” has probably inspired me in an equal way. And, though it feels a little weird to see it ranked so highly, because it felt like my private sanctuary, knowing that I’m not alone gives me hope.
And, letting the lonely, the misunderstood, the misfits, the oppressed know that we’re not alone was one of the greatest gifts Nina gave anyone who took the time to listen.
Singing and playing is the best part of it all. I miss doing regular shows here in LA. That involves more than just singing and playing, I guess, which explains my reluctance. And recording induces a similar fear of permanent impressions and failures. I didn’t realize until I decided to make this little video today how this song (with my recording struggles with it) was so appropriate for the moment. It makes me giggle at the perfect nuttiness of the universe. But it also makes me happy that the song is true, that music and my connection to playing and writing it is what keeps me going. It always seems to be there when I need it.
So take a look at my studio and listen to one of the songs I’ll be putting out when I feel like it’s ready.
Incredible to think that it’s been 25 years since the verdict in the Rodney King trial set things off in Los Angeles. This was my response then, my attempt to understand. This dance was not meant for escape, but for confrontation of reality and for healing.
And in the struggle it’s good to laugh as we come together to fight oppression.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” — Desmond Tutu
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.” ― Elie Wiesel, The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, the Accident
“If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence
This may have nothing to do with anything for you, but please indulge me a moment as I try to bring you in. I’m just heading down an obsessive rabbit hole into Labi Siffre’s music. Apparently he’s kind of famous, but I’d never heard of him until a song, “Watch Me,” featured on the TV show “This is Us” caught my ear. Then I realized he was the guy who wrote one of my favorite 80’s songs, Madness’ “It Must Be Love.” When I was being told I was kind of like the new version or male version of whatever black acoustic guitar player someone had seen before as I started my career, I’m now surprised that I never heard his name. Maybe it was because of his attitude towards the music business was “The insistence that one should be “ethnic” is endemic, irritating and insulting,” and if people are trying to label you as the “black” anything, they’re not trying to align you with that sort of slippery resistant stance. I, however, would have loved to have been guided in his direction as a spiritual and musical forefather. Glad I’m discovering him now though.
I’m on the side of the undocumented, the lovers of love, the historically and enduringly oppressed. I feel no responsibility to be the representative of anyone. And I often love the opportunity to be the bridge that facilitates an opening to lovingly honest conversations between and within the communities which have nourished me and that can be as small as a simple friendship or romantic relationship. And in the end I’m grateful, even when it’s painful, for the challenges that plunge me deeper and ask me to reveal that which I might shelter.
Last summer I had the pleasure of being in a band with Ryan Gosling… Well, I mimed guitar for a scene in “La La Land” which opens on Friday in Los Angeles and New York, and nationwide on December 16.
Last night I saw the film for the first time at the dance and music team screening. First, that experience was great…I love dancers just as a culture! And the film itself is great! It really captures what film maker Damien Chazelle describes in a piece on his favorite musicals in Sunday’s LA Times, saying that musicals “favor emotions over logic. They’re not a literal reflection of life — they’re about how life feels.” Sure it’s only a slice of how some lives feel, but for me seeing streets I drive often, especially by the 101 and Vine, it felt like some joyous and heartbreaking aspects of my life as a performing artist in LA.
Actually getting this job lines up with that for me. This was actually my first “sidelining” gig. Sidelining is when they hire professional musicians to mime playing pre-recorded music for a film to ensure authenticity when you see the hands move, basically. So we’re playing the songs, it’s just not us that you hear on the soundtrack necessarily. My girlfriend had told me to submit to an agency for this sort of thing a while back and I thought, “What the heck?”
Anyway, I get the gig based on a a couple photos they’ve seen, I guess, and I’m called for wardrobe. I drive out to Burbank or somewhere, make a wrong turn and end up in a cemetery. I finally make it to the studio and I’m guided to a room with a couple look boards leaning against the wall. I’m alone, so I walk over to give them a closer look. I see John Legend and others in sort of neo-soul looking clothes. I think, “Okay, I get the look they’re going for….” Then I pull out the second board which was behind and see photos of A Flock of Seagulls. “Yikes! I’d hate to be those guys…”
“So we’re going for a sort of authentic 80s look….” says the costume director.
Probably only a few of you would know this, but when I was a young teenager, my band was booked to open for A Flock of Seagulls. We thought it was going to be our big break. KROQ was the sponsor. We had the posters. This was going to be our big break out of Irvine. Then, a week or two before the show, the venue closed and we weren’t rescheduled. A Flock of Seagulls is kryptonite.
But the shoot was good. Ryan Gosling was a good guy, joining us in trying to come up with ridiculous band names, all of which I’ve forgotten now. And I won’t give any spoilers, but I’m curious to hear your feedback on my “luck” after seeing the film.
And the feeling of heartbreak to triumph is seeing this film in a room filled with amazing talent, knowing that it’s getting Oscar buzz, and loving the finished product. It’s a nice result for fun work on a 100º summer’s day (which plays for spring in the film).
I’m very visible in the scene, early in the film, behind my sunglasses. And if you see the trailer, I’m visible at the very end — if you don’t blink… and you know I’m there!
Blink and you’ll miss it, but this still is from the end of the trailer.
It’s nice to hear all the different musicians sharing tributes today. Sometimes the best way to honor our heroes is to participate in the act that gave us the inspiration. This felt good. I’ve always listened to Leonard Cohen in times when I needed to be reminded that a contemplative world was possible, that we were free to experience life in intimate and liberating ways. He’s inspired me to write. A few of you have heard a song of mine called, “(Please Don’t Play) Hallelujah.” That was inspired by his pursuit of excellence, not as a diss to the song, but I wanted to shake people out of covering the obvious, and encourage people to write their own “Hallelujah.” I look forward to sharing that song on an upcoming release. But for now, here’s a moment from last night trying to engage and give gratitude to the gift of Leonard Cohen’s art. (I’d never sung it before other than to myself, so please excuse the mistakes…)[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/292504642″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]
I’m in Bar Harbor, enjoying my mom and Acadia National Park! Last week, though, Katie Mitchell interviewed me for the Standing “O” Project’s podcast. Standing “O” is a fair trade music streaming site that you may have heard about from “The Art of the Song” radio show, your music community or me (I was featured last year on “The Art of the Song.” It just went live today!
I haven’t listened to it yet, but I loved talking with Katie in my studio. I was just getting ready for the Harry Nilsson Birthday Concert (which went great — I had a string section, bass and drums accompany me on “The Wailing of the Willow” from Harry’s Aerial Ballet album), and working on some new stuff which you’ll be hearing about over the summer.
I hope you’re having a good summer. I find nature, exercise, and music are the best healers, so I’m grateful to be experiencing them all. Hope you’ll experience some of the same!
A show I hosted for a few months from All Saints Church in Pasadena.
”Sacred Jazz” – Studio ASC #9
An Episcopal Church probably isn’t the first place you’d associate with a good jazz concert. Christina Honchell and Dr. Josslyn Luckett break down why you should and why jazz is a conduit to spiritual liberation and cross-cultural connections.
Here are some links to further exploration on the topic of Sacred Jazz and some of the work mentioned in this episode: