Of course, it gets tiresome adding another name to list of indelible artists whose departures leave us shaken, and much worse off without them. When it comes to John Cepahs, we are not only losing great voice, we are losing a type of language, a way of communicating that, once gone, will never come back. This is not something to unduly or excessively mourn, it is (to invoke an odious but inevitable cliche) the proverbial cycle of life. It is a facet of evolution; of course it has happened going back as far as people have created. But it still hurts. And it seems right, or at least respectful, to selfishly want more while being grateful for what we already received.
Here is Cephas, along with his partner Phil Wiggins doing an incandescent take on Skip James’ classic “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”.
I suppose I have to open with the disclaimer here. Until recently, I was an employee at the Music Resource Center, a non-profit recording studio for kids in Virginia. While there, I worked with many fledgling musicians and attempted to teach them the proverbial ropes (insofar as I knew my way around them myself, which is still a work in progress). That’s where I first met Colin Steers, the lanky self-professed dork currently featured as a contestant on the second season of Bravo’s reality TV/game show/fashion expo Make Me a Supermodel, which premiered Wednesday at 10pm.
In high school, Colin played bass in the wonderfully spastic pop quartet Body For Karate, seen here tying him to the train tracks. Up in front was Ross Bollinger, a prodigious young songwriter who spat out hectic chirps without the slightest hesitation and pumped his ukulele through a giant tie-dyed amplifier. Together, they cooked up a slew of riffs so catchy that it didn’t really matter that an electric uke was a bizarre way to go about executing them.
Even that wasn’t their most oddball tactic, though—at one awesomely disastrous performance, half the power infrastructure fizzled mid-song, taking out everything but the tie-dyed amp. Without missing a beat, Ross pulled out his Gameboy, plugged it in, and dove into a game of Tetris while the drummer jammed along with the 8-bit theme, buying us some extra time to figure out what had gone wrong. These days, he’s more inclined toward using a bright yellow $20 toy guitar for his “gigs” with the Dead River Company, a Brooklyn-based musical flash-mob that runs in and out of subway cars and parties playing quirky folk without really giving a damn whether you want to hear it, but at least now we know the weirdness quotient is stable. (You know, just in case the pictures don’t already make that clear.)
All along, B4K entertained an unhealthy fascination with robots, resulting in numerous songs ending in “-tron.” Foremost among these is “Uktron 3000 (4000),” which features some of Colin’s most spirited backup singing and some neat half-synthetic drum parts but is still driven primarily by an astonishingly addictive keyboard part. After the first couple EPs, however, scheduling problems kept the band from meeting up at the studio, so “Parry Thrust Thrust Parry” eventually turned into a bedroom recording project, much to the dismay of the staff. It’s distressingly lo-fi, but probably their most mature work in nearly every other respect.
I’m glad Colin’s appearance on national TV gives me cause to post his old band’s music here; when they were at their peak, I was just starting my career moonlighting as a music writer (also still a work in progress) and have always thought the songs deserved a broader audience than I was able to give them at the time. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for him while watching the show over the next couple months, but if there’s any sort of talent portion of the program a la the more straightforward beauty pageants, it’s all over.
San Francisco, circa 1969: The Pointer Sisters have just returned to San Francisco after an ill-fated trip to Houston. Producer David Rubinson, who paid their fare back to the west coast, signs them to his management company with Bill Graham. While vetting record deals, he finds session work for this intriguing trio of sisters with some of the Bay Area’s most notable musicians, including Tower of Power, Grace Slick Betty Davis, and Boz Scaggs.
Among the acts The Pointer Sisters worked with onstage and in recording studios during their pre-fame ascent was famed guitarist Taj Mahal. The Pointer Sisters lent their harmonies to a handful of his albums from the early-‘70s like Recycling the Blues & Other Related Stuff (1971) and Ooh So Good ‘N’ Blues (1973). To honor the 35th anniversary of The Pointer Sisters’ solo debut, Taj Mahal wanted to relay just what it is about Ruth, Anita, Bonnie, and June Pointer that makes them one of the most special group of individuals he’s ever worked with in his 40-year career:
“The Pointer Sisters! Yeeuuhh!! I hope through the printed word I can communicate the sheer joy and personal excitement I have had in being part of the audience, performing, recording, touring with and championing their star studded career, these women who rose from well nurtured southern roots to take the world by storm with their unique harmonies, beauty and earthy sounds!
All the songs I recorded with them were before their meteoric climb up the charts, onto the world stage and into the hearts of millions! Hit after great hit… and peeps, those songs still stand today! But what you’ll notice is that with our early collaborative recordings “the ladies” were already well formed, in tune and had a sound that we captured then!!
If I had it to do all over again, I would have performed and recorded more with “the ladies!” My work with them will always remain one of the special high points in my life and my career!
Keep up your excellent work, know I’ll always love y’all and can’t wait to hear whatcha’ doin’ now!! XXXX Taj”
Discovering recent music from other countries can often be a difficult, if not daunting task. There are only a handful of labels in the States that stay true to bringing quality international music to the United States, and Luaka Bop is quite possibly at the top of that list. Exploring the music of Brazil has often been a forte of theirs, and as of recent, they have brought a new face on board by the name of Márcio Local.
Local comes from the region of Realengo, a working class section on the north side of Brazil. By the time he was born in 1976, this part of Brazil was dubbed “Black Rio” which attracted thousands of young minds. Being one of the few to make it out with his immense amounts of talent, Local’s music finds its foundations in that of the Bossa Nova sound of his heritage, and the Afro-centric sound that swept Brazil in the ‘60s with Tim Maia and Jorge Ben.
But the thing that sets Local apart from his peers was his admiration for the modern sound and the implementation of it into his music. Luaka Bop released a series of 3-inch CDs last year, Local’s being the one that stood out the most, full of vigor and ambition. His sound consisted of all the traditional Brazilian instruments, but you could also find the use of studio effects, turntables, and countless experimentation with the sonic landscape. The time is now for the Brazilians to capitalize on the resurgence of their sound in the United States with groups like Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil—and Local is taking full advantage of this.