Saturday, December 10, 2011

Music Reviews-The LeBron Brothers, Slim Harpo and Roy Buchanan

The Lebron Brothers
African inspired music sounds (and is) different across the diaspora. However there are similarities, occasionally small and hard to hear, that link all of these various musics together and make it apparent that they share a common ancestral heritage, however remote that ancestry might be. From time to time various musicians within one particular New World heritage appropriate traditions more closely associated with a different New World heritage. For example the clave rhythms in much of Bo Diddley's music or James Brown's "The Big Payback" are more common in Afro-Cuban music than African-American music but are ubiquitous throughout almost all West African music, which was the source for African-American AND Afro-Cuban music.

This mixing and matching of rhythms and influences goes the other way as well. A prime example of that would be The LeBron Brothers, a Puerto Rican salsa band that became quite adept at playing boogaloo. In some respects boogaloo was to salsa as rock-and-roll was to blues. Boogaloo combined Black American soul and R&B rhythms with Afro-Rican/Afro-Cuban styles-especially son montuno. The combination irritated some salsa purists but I liked it. And so did plenty of people in NY during the mid sixties and early seventies. 

The LeBron Brothers (Jose, Angel, Pablo,Carlos and Frankie) played their own instruments and sang in English and Spanish. They played salsa, soul and as discussed boogaloo among other styles. It was and is fun music. If you have an opportunity to pick up their 1967 album Psychedelic Goes Latin, I don't think you will be disappointed. It was crossover music before the term had been invented. I don't speak Spanish but just as you don't have to speak Italian or German to enjoy some very good opera I don't think you need to speak Spanish to enjoy some great salsa and boogaloo. Check them out.

Summertime Blues  Descarga Lebron  Apurate  Money Can't Buy Love

Slim Harpo
Slim Harpo was a blues/rock-n-roll singer and harmonica player (thus the name) who became virtually synonymous with "swamp blues". Most of his recorded music had a lot of extra studio reverb and echo added in (or was recorded initially with that). Often either instead of a drummer or in addition to a drummer he would use coke bottles, rolled up newspapers, cardboard boxes, maracas, claves, and anything else that would make a percussive sound. Ironically although Harpo's primary producer, JD Miller, claimed to love blues music and occasionally even used racially mixed bands in the studio, he also supported segregation and produced some very ugly racist Cajun rock-n-roll music. People are complex.

Harpo's vocals were easier for whites to approximate and his songs were usually good-time tunes. So he sold a fair share of records to both black and white audiences. Harpo's songs were covered by many rock-n-roll bands just starting out, including the Rolling Stones, various country bands and the Yardbirds. In my opinion he was only a so-so harmonica player but he was a pretty good songwriter. His music is seemingly simple but the feel is hard to get right, as several lame covers made painfully clear. His music is made for dancing, not listening and always has that shuffle beat going-sometimes up front, sometimes slowed down or more subdued. His music pulses, pushes and pulls like a tranny on a 56' Lincoln Continental.

Even the great Muddy Waters' version of Slim Harpo's I'm a King Bee doesn't quite do the original justice to my ears. Harpo passed away from a heart attack in 1970 but his rhythmically intense dark music lives on. This is just the kind of music you'd be listening to if you were having a sultry down and dirty adulterous affair with a Cajun/Creole queen (king) in New Orleans.

Got Love if You want it   Buzz me Baby   Rainin in My Heart

I'm a King Bee  Shake Your Hips  Baby Scratch My Back

Roy Buchanan
Substance Abuse.
The Greatest Guitarist You've Never Heard Of.
Those things come to mind when I think of Roy Buchanan. There is often a predictable, if somewhat depressing tendency in America to overrate the Caucasian practitioners of blues and blues-derived music while the Black performers get ignored. That as you might imagine, irritates me greatly. But there are or in Roy's case were, white artists of INCREDIBLE skill who were shamefully ignored. Roy Buchanan is an example. He was skilled enough to play with anyone, though the notoriously introverted Buchanan once declined an invitation to share a stage with Albert King, claiming he wasn't that good, and turned down a request to join the Rolling Stones.

Buchanan grew up impoverished in Arkansas and California (his parents were sharecroppers) and was soaked in the then current white gospel and country music. His father wasn't religious but his mother occasionally attended racially mixed revival meetings where Buchanan picked up an interest in black gospel. That's Buchanan's version anyway. Buchanan's brother JD claimed that Buchanan didn't show an interest in or affinity for black music until the family moved to California and through one of JD's black friends, Roy started hearing more blues, R&B and rock-n-roll. Wherever he first got turned on to black music Roy showed a lifetime love for it. Roy picked up a few tips from Jimmy Nolen-later to become famous as James Brown's guitarist-and was a professional guitarist by age 16.

Unfortunately Roy's various bands were rarely at the same level he was, especially rhythmically. Playing for small pay on the white version of the chitlin' circuit also made it difficult to keep bands together. When Buchanan had a good backing band he would reveal more talents. Check out his cover of Al Green's I'm a Ram and see if you don't start dancing.

Buchanan was not the first to use pinch harmonics. Ike Turner, BB King and Hubert Sumlin occasionally used these tools. But Buchanan's embrace of pinch harmonics  (those "squealing" sounds you hear when he plays -Home is where I lost her is full of them -was total and complete and a defining characteristic. Buchanan was well versed in country, blues, rock-n-roll, jazz, flamenco and many other styles. In the late seventies he gamely took a stab at fusion and disco. Buchanan could and did replicate pedal steel and violin sounds on his guitar. Buchanan summoned a wide variety of tones that other people would need to use effects pedals to recreate. Buchanan rarely used electronic effects. It was all fingers, amp and attitude. Check out Five String Blues-it sounds like wah-wah pedals and volume pedals are being used...but they're not.

However because of his looks (his crazily intense Charles Manson stare wasn't something that could be easily sold in the pop market), his shyness and refusal to make the compromises necessary to become a bigger star, and his fierce insistence on musicianship above all else (as a hungry teen he once lost an audition when he insisted on tuning a guitar to the correct standard), he never hit the big time. He was a mediocre singer and a passable songwriter. Playing was his strength.

Buchanan's struggles with depression and alcohol/drug abuse limited his career and may tragically have been what cost him his life. After coming home drunk and getting in a "discussion" with his wife, Roy was arrested. The police later claimed that he committed suicide in jail. Incensed, his wife opened the coffin for close family and friends, who reported that Roy had had his head bashed in. Unfortunately his wife did not have the resources to further investigate his death.

"I have been played on the black stations. When I play I don't try to copy any of the black guys. A lot of people say I'm not a purist. Well there's no such thing as a white purist."
-Roy Buchanan in Maryland Musician in 1988.

The Messiah Will Come Again   Home is where I lost her (Billy Price on Vocals)  Fly Night Bird

Sweet Dreams(Live)   Hey Joe  I'm A Ram  Five String Blues   Roy's Bluz  Rescue Me
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