February 28, 2013 by joesonotheque
Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar & Strut Records presents
CLOUD NINE: Psychedelic Soul of the 60’s and 70’s
Featuring DJ Michael Latham
Tuesday, March 12 – 9PM-2AM – Free, No Cover
960 W. 31st Street, Chicago, Il. 60608 – 773.890.0588 – http://www.community-bar.com
The transistorized innovations of mid-sixties psychedelic rock unintentionally repaid a bit of the debt to African-American music from which white musician had stolen rock ‘n’ roll. Of course, it wasn’t only the 9-volt battery-powered wah-wah, fuzz, and phasing pedals that had fueled psychedelic rock. The small matter of certain herbal and chemical substances gaining cultural currency among American youth played a far more substantial role. Much of the best psychedelic rock of the 60’s and early 70’s involved a willingness to probe the uncharted territory of the psychedelic mind and try to harvest whatever musical treasures could survive the journey back. We tend to regard most highly, in fact, the musical artifacts of this process that went deepest and did not blanch when mind-alteration approached madness. Consider the special status of Skip Spence, Syd Barrett, or Roky Erickson. Now consider how necessary it is to elide the suffering these artists endured as they skirted or surrendered to madness. Consider how uncomfortable we should really feel about celebrating the musical territory charted by substance abuse, madness, and death.
With the notable exception of the Funkadelic/Parliament musicians working under George Clinton’s direction, and the still absent genius Sylvester Stewart, drugs didn’t play quite the same role in the psychedelic turn in soul and funk. In fact, much of the best psychedelic soul is more concerned with the dangers of drugs, and not least because of the harm drugs were bringing to the African-American communities of the late 60’s and early 70’s. If much of the best white psychedelic music is more than anything a celebration of the psychedelic experience itself, and as such is trapped in its own distorted hall of mirrors, black artists of the period had other, more pressing concerns. The best psychedelic soul is protest music with a distinctly African-American perspective. No less concerned with stopping the war in Vietnam, soul musicians also had other wars to fight, wars against poverty, injustice, social and economic inequality, segregation: the kinds of concerns that can make the suburban psychedelic experience seem a bit indulgent. Articulating these concerns without alienating labels, distributors, radio and television outlets, and audiences of the period posed tremendous risks at a time when the soul of Motown, Atlantic and Stax had done much at least to integrate airwaves and markets, if not cities and states. At a time when Otis Redding could headline Monterey Pop and Sly and the Family Stone appear on the Ed Sullivan show.
Motown would play an important role in this process. Motown’s Berry Gordy was initially reluctant to release Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” because he did not want to jeopardize a carefully cultivated crossover audience with a socially conscious record about the black urban experience. When the record turned out to be Motown’s highest-selling record to date and Rolling Stone’s Album of the Year, Motown became a very different label. Instead of sending their artists to finishing school to polish their image for a white audience, Motown artists radicalized. Dashikis and Afros replaced mohair suits and flawless grooming.
It was the subsidiary label that bore Gordy’s name that would see the greatest innovation, and the crowd-pleasing crossover stars The Temptations who would represent the clearest example of a radicalized Motown. Under the direction of genius writer, arranger and producer Norman Whitfield, the Temptations seamlessly crossed over again from gospel-trained doo-wop safe for mid-America (“My Girl”) to socially incisive hard-edged funk taking cues from Sly Stone and James Brown and guitar effects from psychedelic rock (“Cloud Nine.”) Whitfield’s psychedelic colorings went far beyond chap guitar effects. He found ways to de-center and make very strange the horn charts and vocal arrangements in a manner not unlike what George Martin and the Beatles had accomplished with strings a few years earlier. Whitfield also worked with Edwin Starr and the Undisputed Truth, writing songs for all of these musicians with the great Motown lyricist Barrett Strong. A random sample of their compositions includes “Heard It Thought the Grapevine,” “Cloud Nine.” “Smiling Faces,” and “Ball of Confusion”
Down in Memphis, Stax songwriter Isaac Hayes decided to release an album of his own in 1969. Largely taking a break from his own compositions, “Hot Buttered Soul” stretched out popular radio staples by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and Glen Campbell’s songwriter Jimmy Webb, in much the way a jazz musician might open up a standard, only with distinctly psychedelic arrangements and instrumentation. Two years later, Hayes released the soundtrack to the film “Shaft,” hitting number one and winning an Academy Award with the title theme. The following year, Chicago’s own Curtis Mayfield would see similar success with his soundtrack to “Superfly.” The so-called blaxploitation soundtrack would offer another medium for psychedelic soul, engaging artists from Marvin Gaye (“Trouble Man”) to Gladys Knight and the Pips (“Claudine,” with music by Curtis Mayfield.)
Drawing from a carefully assembled collection, DJ Michael Latham will be playing much of this brilliant music–along with tracks by Sly and the Family Stone, “Payback”-era James Brown, Funkadelic, The Rotary Connection (featuring a very young Minnie Ripperton), The Isley Brothers, The Meters and The Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band–on Tuesday, March 12 at Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar in Bridgeport. Join us for “Cloud Nine: Psychedelic Soul of the 60’s and 70’s.” As always, there is no cover for this event.